By Tracy Reifer, liver recipient

I love spring and the newness of life it brings – the grass turns green, flowers begin to bloom and birds energetically sing! It’s also a time for Easter, many family birthday parties and Mother’s Day. All things I love, but in the spring of 2015, instead of preparing for the new season, I was fighting for my life.

Let me go back to almost ten years earlier, in 2006, when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease – Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC). In most cases, people with PBC can live long lives and never need a liver transplant. However, my case was severe and doctors informed me I would need a transplant to survive. I was shocked.

Fast forward, my health had been mostly okay with only the occasional hospital stay. Suddenly, my health began to deteriorate. Even though I looked healthy on the outside, inside my liver was losing its fight with my immune system. At this point my doctor diagnosed me with end stage liver disease and recommended I be evaluated for a possible liver transplant. I went through the various tests and was placed on the national liver transplant waiting list in April 2015.

Before transplant and after

I began rapidly losing weight, strength, and hope – I was so weak I could barely climb the flight of stairs to my bedroom. I had no choice but to go on disability from work. I simply didn’t have the strength to keep up with the career I loved and had worked in for more than 20 years.

The effects of cirrhosis began taking a toll on my kidneys, and I was retaining a large volume of fluid which required weekly six-hour round trips to the hospital for my abdomen to be drained. At times, as much as five-liters were drained in a session. Imagine two and a half, two-liter bottles of soda! Only after this procedure did I actually have room for any food in my stomach. I was able to eat, on average, one good meal per week.

As spring was fading into summer, I was beginning to lose hope. I had only been on the transplant waiting list a total of seven weeks, and even though it doesn’t sound like a long time, it was very difficult.

But! On the first day of summer in 2015, I received the call I had been so desperate for – a liver had been found for me! I received the transplant the next day and when I woke up, I remember feeling incredible. As soon as I could, I began walking the halls of the hospital.  What once had been a struggle was now a joy!

By early winter of 2015, I was doing a more intense exercise routine, and decided to try running.  I spent the next spring running 5K races and training for the Transplant Games of America. By the end of that summer, I was an Olympic bronze medalist in the women’s 1,500 meter and 800 meter runs! Since then, I have participated in more than 25 5K’s and have also participated in the World Transplant Games.

I’m alive and thriving today because of my donor – my hero! Just this past spring we welcomed our third granddaughter, who I would have never been able to meet if not for my donor. I also turned 50, an age I wasn’t sure I would reach. But, thanks to my donor, I did. He has given me my life, my health and so much more.  He has given me everything.

I know misconceptions can keep people from registering. I learned my donor was on kidney dialysis at the time of his death and he was still able to donate his liver to me. Everyone has the power to be someone’s hero. All it takes is saying ‘yes’ to being a registered organ, eye and tissue donor.