Here's my miraculous transplant story and an update on what I'm currently doing.
I never thought in a million years that I would go through something like this. I went from being a healthy 21 year old, to a patient in ICU experiencing fulminate liver failure. What had been a routine check up soon turned into a life altering experience that is still like a dream to me. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
I was at the Cleveland Clinic for a totally unrelated appointment and my mom noticed my eyes were yellow. My doctor had my liver enzymes tested and they were in the two thousands, so my doctor immediately admitted me. I thought this was absolutely crazy! They tested me for everything possible and couldn't find anything wrong. Our 2 day trip turned into an unexpected month long stay at the hospital. I remember only 3-4 days in the hospital. I have little recollection of the events that took place after that, until I woke up a week later from what seemed like a nap, with a liver transplant and a whole new life! It was the scariest feeling to wake up in ICU and try to comprehend what was going on. All I had was a little red button that I would continually press when I was bored. The pain button! I would go to sleep and then have crazy dreams. To this day I still don't know what was actually real and what wasn't.
Apparently, my parents told me, I was telling everyone I was in Florida. Obviously I wished I was. After a liver biopsy, doctors found I only had 20% function of my liver. Since I was so young, they thought my liver was going to regenerate, but the toxins (ammonia) continued to build up making my whole juandice. At this point, doctors wanted to release the pressure in my brain by putting a stent in. They decided against that and I was immediately put to the top of the national transplant waiting list, status one, first in the nation for a liver. Only 1% of people are ever listed at this status. Miraculously, they found a potential donor in 8 hours. (That just doesn't happen. People wait months and years for a transplant.) 24 hours later, after all the testing was done, I was transplanted with no time to spare. It's amazing how quickly this all happened. They never did figure out the cause of my liver failure. It was acute fulminate liver failure for unknown reasons. They said it had shrunk to 1 lb and had brown spots on it, which is absolutely strange. Without my amazing donor, I would not be alive today.
I recovered in ICU and I can't even imgaine what my family had to go through and see. I have always wanted to learn more about the crazy things I did while in the hospital. I didn't even know where I was. I pulled my ng tube out and my annoying IV that was in my annicubidal vein in ICU. Lets just say I was lucky that I started yelling for the nurse. Apparently, she had just given me a bath a few minutes ago. My parents said they got a phone call in the middle of the night about this.
When I finally got to go to the normal floor, I had no idea what my life was going to be like. Could I ever walk normal again, would i be able to compete in sports like I dide before, what happened to my body??! They had broken one of my ribs, so it was hard for me to stand up straight for a little while. I went from being a normal 21 year old, to an unexpected total life change. I had to learn how to take 32 pills everyday, had to wear a mask everywhere & couldn't get out of bed by myself.
I went through rejection about 5 weeks later and had to be airlifted from Michigan back to Cleveland. It was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life, but thankfully with IV heavy dose steroids for 2 weeks my body was able to accept it. My life hasn’t been easy these past 5 years, but no ones is. Life is an unexpected journey! I always remind myself that there is always someone else out there going through worse things. My family has been my rock and I'm so thankful for them and each day that I am alive!
Now at the age of 27, I am on a mission to create positive change! I know I was left here for a big reason and I am so passionate about helping others. I have found that my purpose in life is to not only spread organ & tissue donation awareness worldwide and show the success of organ donation, but to help others along the life journey. It is my mission to help end the wait for others and show that beauty is inside and out no matter the scars on your body. I have designed my own clothing line called, “Holdol’s Transplant Wear” to spread awareness worldwide and help myself and others continue to go to the US and World Transplant Games. I model to help show beauty inside and out. I have been in various news stories, talk on the radio and have lots of published newspaper/magazine articles sharing my story and my mission to spread awareness. I have found that until someone is affected by something, they don't think about it. The more educated the public is on the issue, the more people will understand the importance and sign up on the registry.
Since then, I have competed in 2 U.S. Transplant Games. They are olympic style events for transplant recipients. I have won a total of 10 medals so far in swimming, running & volleyball. (4 gold in swim, 2 silvers in swim, 2 silvers in running, 2 bronze in swim). I also had the opportunity to go to the world transplant games in Australia in 2010, where I won 2 bronze medals in swimming and fourth place in beach volleyball & most recently Goetberg, Sweden in June 2011. I won a bronze in the 50m butterfly swim. Now I am apart of planning the games for 2012. Celebrating my gift of life with other recipients and those affected by transplantation is indescribable. Everyone is just so happy and the atmosphere is breathtaking! I am so proud and grateful everyday that I am still able to do all the things I could before. I look forward to them each year and with the cost of the Games, I hope to be able to continue participating. I’m currently fundraising to get to Durban, South Africa in 2013.
It is unbelievable where my life has taken me after this unexpected transplant. I am so very blessed! I currently am in the midst of helping bring the 2012 Transplant Games of America to Grand Rapids, MI July 28-31. I am the special advisor for the games and on the local organizing committee. I am on the organ donation advisory committee for the state of Michigan, spread awareness with my Holdol Wear clothing, do inspirational speaking, volunteer with the Waiting List organization offering support to anyone in need of positive encouragement, record videos of my life to help inspire others & show off my mercedes/peace sign scar to show beauty inside and out. I also helped form the TRIO youth circle to give support to young people like myself. I also talk to youth in drivers ed classes and do public speaking with my story to various groups, schools, etc. to help raise awareness and sign up donors. I have helped coordinate a donor drive at Munson Hospital in Traverse City and have done buddy day in the secretary of state offices various times. I am working on a “show off your scar” project. I hope to one day travel to various hospitals to visit patients and give hope, inspire and help make their dreams come true. In the future I would love to try and do a documentary on not just my story, but other young recipients as well to help reach out to others and show them they are not alone. I have so many ideas that I would love to implement to help sign up donors and end the wait for others on the waiting list. My dream is to have a job traveling, promoting and educating people about the importance of organ donation. I want to show the success of life after a transplant. Helping others to receive a second chance is my goal and purpose in life.
The Gift of Life is so amazing and we are all true miracles. I am so happy to be alive and so thankful for my donor! I feel I am alive to help do as much as I can to promote organ donation. With your support, I would like to help educate the public. I hope my story will help benefit others and influence people to become organ donors. I am so blessed and grateful to be alive. I want to continue to share my story and speak about how important it is to pursue your dreams and live life to the fullest. Know that you are never alone in all that you go through. Sometimes it’s the struggles in life that show us what we are truly capable of.