On this day 2 years ago, something extremely important was happening. I will forever remember every detail of January 26th, 2015! This was the day I donated half of my liver to my stepfather, who has lived a good portion of his adult life with Hepatitis C - a disease that attacks the liver.
In the fall of 2014, something called me to go through the testing to determine if I was a match. I knew that my parents would never ask anyone, especially their 2 daughters. I felt inside it was something I was being pulled to pursue. I reached out to the live liver donor department at Henry Ford, in Detroit MI. I was put in touch with a coordinator that went over the process for me and what the testing would look like. She told me I would go through extensive testing and would have to fly home for most of it. However, the first step was getting a simple blood draw to determine if we were a match on the most basic level. She also prepared me not to get my hopes up. To be a live donor match is something that is still very rare. Over 90% of the donors that get tested are told they are not a match or there are reasons they cannot donate.
I was able to get the blood test done here and I did not get my hopes up. I knew he had a rare blood type and I had no idea what mine was. Furthermore, he is my stepfather so I figured it was a stretch. The sample has to be sent via air to Detroit and I received a call a few days later that I was in fact a blood match and could come home for additional testing.
In October, 2014 I flew home to Michigan and the hospital scheduled me for 3 days of the most extensive testing of my life! I had multiple blood vials draw, a detailed MRI that lasted 1.5 hours and I met with every single department to go over my mental & physical state, as well as my entire history. It was a very intense process that moved extremely fast! It also required me to face one of my biggest fears, claustrophobia. When I found out they were putting me in "that tube" for 1.5 hours, I was overcome by fear and wasn't sure I could do it. It was at this time, I saw the magnitude of making the decision to change my life completely! Little did I know, but I was preparing for the greatest event of my life! 5 days later, we received the call that I was a match and the surgery was a go! Needless to say, it's was a surreal moment for my entire family.
3 years prior, I was at the very top of my BMI, wasn't active, didn't eat well, was a full time smoker and a ball of stress. Had I gone through the testing then, I would have been denied for various reasons. At the time of my surgery, I was at the peak of my health mentally and physically ... I was an ideal donor! I had also picked up the healthy tools I needed to make it through 1.5 hours of being in "the tube" which was a HUGE accomplishment for me! The crew turned on island music for me and I meditated the whole time (which is something I also never could have done in the past!) I was rocking life on every level and I was ready when I was called upon to give of myself ... literally!
We decided to have the surgery after the holidays, since it would be all hands on deck! I would have to come back to Michigan for 1 month to have the surgery and recover a bit before I could head back home to Seattle. So in January, I jumped on a plane and headed home for this EPIC event!
The morning of January 26th, is a morning I'll never forget! My family and I work up in an apartment next to the hospital SUPER early! For those of you who know us, we're a pretty cool family (just sayin!) It was important to me that we started the day with love, light and celebration! So I hosted a Dance for a Healthier Heather on my social media platforms. Not only did my family and I get up and dance but hundreds of other people did as well! I'll never forget waking up from surgery and seeing all of the amazing dancing videos. It truly made me feel like I had an incredible army behind me and it made me feel so strong and loved.
I had managed to keep my cool prior to the surgery but once you're in your gown and on that table - let's just say shit gets real lol! I started to get nervous but this is where my amazing team kicked in. I was never once treated like a patient by this crew - they treated me like family. Dr. Abouljoud, my Dr., was also my grand father's Dr. when he was transitioning with his liver disease so I felt very close to him. Everyone there from my surgeon, to the nurses, down to the people that clean were SO
amazing to me! I felt so blessed to be where I was, being cared for by these amazing people!
My Dr. is at the forefront of live liver donations and mine was done with a laparoscopic method, instead of the traditional method which is far more invasive and extensive! The biggest difference being they separate the abs, as opposed to cutting through them and my incision is much smaller! This allows for a faster recovery time and less issues for the donor. It is not being done many places around the world, so again I was so blessed to be in these highly capable hands.
The entire experience impacted my entire family. It brought us closer together and raised our level of gratitude for life in general. This is an act I will forever be proud of and everyday I'm grateful that I was a match for this very important man in my life. When you're faced with saving your dads life - the decision was a no brainer! If I had to do it again, I would ... 1 million times over!
Make the decision to give life by checking that box on your license or step up in a BIG way and find out how you can be a live donor. There are so many people waiting for a match ... could that person be YOU!?