A Gift of Life, a New Chapter
My parents knew from the time I was an infant that I would need a transplant. I was born in 1981 with a rare genetic disorder that affected my liver. This was a time before transplantation was common, and my parents did everything they could to keep me healthy.
As a child, I had regular check-ups and my only real limitation was that I couldn’t play contact sports. I was on a very strict organic, low salt diet – before it was popular – and my mom worked very hard to find the best food to keep my liver working properly.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that my condition began to decline. I started to feel sluggish and began retaining water. My liver was shutting down.
Still, I entered my freshman year at Marshall University with high hopes. By that fall I became very sick and learned that it was time to pursue a transplant. I didn’t tell anyone at school, I think I was afraid that admitting it would make it more real.
By January of the following year I had to return home. I was at home, but couldn’t be alone. I had someone with me 24/7. That’s when I realized I was really sick. I was in and out of the hospital often for water retention or issues with my ammonia levels. At one point my ammonia levels became so high that I was in a coma for two days.
During this incredibly challenging chapter in my life, our family, friends and church members rallied around us. I was on prayer lists at many churches and on one Sunday, my English teacher went to the front of her church to pray for me after service. At the same time, a woman named Liz was doing the same thing, praying for her nephew who was just in a car accident. They shared our stories and consoled each other.
Sadly, Liz’s nephew, Jordan Ayers, didn’t survive his injuries. What was amazing to all of us was that after Jordan died, his family decided to donate his organs and direct his liver to me. It was a long shot that everything would work out since we had to match on many levels.
I’ll never forget being at my dad’s house when we got the call from The Ohio State University Medical Center that the liver was a match and it was time for the transplant. I wasn’t afraid at all as I was going into surgery; I knew it would be OK.
Thanks to Jordan, I received my transplant on Feb. 26, 2001. Everyone immediately told me how pink I looked! I guess the jaundice from my liver disease never really resonated with me until I looked healthy again. I also didn’t realize how bad I felt until I felt better. It was wonderful to have energy back and I felt like I could do anything.
After my transplant I went back to college to get my associate’s degree in culinary arts and my bachelor’s degree in recreational studies. Today, I am a certified therapeutic recreation therapist at The Ohio State University Medical Center.
Now, ten years later, I get to work one-on-one with patients, help people recover from injuries and give back for the life I received. I also get to take my best friend to work with me. My dog, Bella, is a certified therapy dog and comes to work with me a few days a week. She loves joining me and my patients all enjoy working with her. My career is very rewarding and wouldn’t have been possible without my donor.
I’ve also had the chance to compete in the transplant games on five different occasions, which is always fun and rewarding, and I just bought my first house in Columbus!
To thank Jordan’s family, I started sending them a package every Thanksgiving to tell them about the amazing year their son had given me. I also send tulips, my favorite flower, on my transplant anniversary to let them know I’m thinking of them.
After five years of correspondence with The Ayers Family, we met at Lifeline of Ohio’s Candlelight Vigil. It was an unreal moment and I didn’t want to leave. They’re like extended family now and we keep in touch regularly.
I am so very grateful for the gift I received. Jordan’s decision to donate saved my life. Before my transplant, there were many things I didn’t think would be possible, including walking down the aisle.
There was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to honor Jordan at my wedding. I purchased a locket at an antique store (for my something old!) and placed Jordan’s picture in it to attach to my bouquet. That way Jordan was with me as I walked down the aisle.
We also had a photo of Jordan with candles on a table at the reception so everyone would know that my donor helped to make this celebration possible.
I knew that I wanted Jordan’s family to be at my wedding. His mother, Cheri; older brother, Justin; Justin’s fiancée, Tiffany; and Jordan’s younger brother, Jacob all attended. It was wonderful to have them there. After the wedding, I gave Jordan’s mother my bouquet with the locket. They all loved it and I know Jordan was with us that day.
So far married life is great! We are doing well and are very happy. Jordan gave me a second chance and a second life. With this life, I plan to live happy and healthy each day!
I am so very grateful for the gift I received. Jordan’s decision to donate saved my life. I try to share my story whenever I can with the hope that others will understand what it means to say “yes” to organ and tissue donation.