My Liver Transplant

 The Gift of Organ Transplantation

How do you say thank you to someone you do not know and may never know? When, if ever, will the opportunity present itself, placing you face to face with the family of the one who gave you the most precious gift one person can give another? What if that opportunity never comes? They are questions that I confess I did not contemplate deeply during the months and years prior to August 8, 2001. Now I ponder them almost daily.

Something happens to the human psyche when a doctor informs you that you are gravely ill. Initially, the mind races through the customary roller-coaster of emotions. It tries to find a place of rest with reason, explanation, and even justification. I suspect that it runs parallel to the five stages of grief when one suffers the loss of a loved one -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Our journey is as individual as our illness. Mine was a journey that was indeed bittersweet and it was a journey that I will forever cherish.

In 1997, I was 37 years old. Following a routine physical and labs, I sat on the end of the papered exam table in a chilly patient room as my family doctor gently gave me the disturbing results. It was thought at first that I had cancer, but further testing proved negative. By process of elimination, doctors eventually narrowed the cause of the problem to the liver. More tests revealed moderate to severe cirrhosis brought about over a period of many years by an autoimmune disorder. My confused immune system was literally destroying the life it was designed to protect. The signs had been so subtle; they were virtually undetectable until it was nearly too late. I had been blaming my exhaustion on my work schedule, coupled with the activities of school events, church activities and the home. My children were ages 9, 13 and 16.

The next two years brought steady trips to the E.R. as well as several admissions into the hospital and a special recipe of medications to enable me to function as normally as possible with a liver that was slowly dying. My health was beginning to deteriorate quickly and I was finally listed for transplant in December of 1999. I bought a cell phone, carried a pager and never left the state without consulting my doctor for nearly 18 months.

In early August of 2001, two Oklahoma families received phone calls that would forever change their lives. To one family however, the call would bring grief; to the other, rejoicing.

On August 7, we were winding down for the evening. My husband was finishing yard work, our middle son was with friends and our daughter, then 12, was in the house with me. Our oldest son was a U.S. sailor stationed in Puerto Rico. Then, at 9:27 p.m., the phone rang! My daughter answered. The caller identified himself as the transplant coordinator from Integris Baptist Medical Center, and in one smooth motion, she spun around with her arm outstretched, shoving the phone toward me. The look on her face shouted, “This is it!” This was the call for which we had waited so long. In a split second, our lives were changed.

So, how do you thank someone you’ve never met and may never meet?

Easy… pray!

I remember the sobering moments during our two-hour trip to the hospital when suddenly, in the midst of our excitement, silence fell as we stopped to reflect upon the family who was in mourning at the very moment we were rejoicing. We prayed for comfort for that family in their loss, as well as thankfulness for their precious gift. We also prayed for my surgeon and his team, the prayer that had not ceased since the day I was listed. 

The surgery was a success and we learned later, was just in time. Upon examining my damaged liver, we were told I would not have survived two more weeks. God's timing is perfect.

With the exception of a few minor incidents, I’ve managed to stay out of hospitals for several years now. A couple of rejections, one minor, one severe, set me back for a couple of years in the beginning, but today I feel stronger than ever. I’ve been given the blessed opportunity to watch my children grow and mature into beautiful, flourishing young adults while enjoying the new life my husband and I share as “empty-nesters”, as well as the joy of becoming grandparents and sharing Jesus with them. 

I could have missed this! 

My husband and me at the Rose Parade standing before the LifeShare float.
We were there the year a cold blast swept the country and it was 34 degrees the morning of the parade.

A newspaper story of the Rose Parade opportunity. 

Our first born and his wife and family. 

Our second son and his wife and family. 

Our youngest and only daughter with her husband and three boys at Christmas 2018.

It is impossible to experience something like this and not come out with a new-found respect and admiration for family and friends. Strength, courage, and compassion are discovered in places one never imagines.  You also discover traits in yourself you didn’t know you had. You truly will never be the same again, physically, mentally and spiritually.  It also has bought me precious time with my aging parents with whom I now spend a great deal of time.

So, for now, I praise God daily for the precious gift of Jesus, the sweetest name I know, (Phil. 2:10) who forever changed my life so many years ago when He delivered me from darkness and transferred me into the light of His kingdom. (Col. 1:13) I am also mindful to thank Him for the precious gift of the one who, for the moment remains nameless to me. I pray also for God’s blessing of peace and strength upon his family, and I hope that one day I will stand face to face with my gift. 
Shari England
Liver Transplant Recipient – Aug. 08, 2001


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