Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

I hadn’t seen her for a while, and when I did, I realized that she was very unwell. I was doing a book signing at a King City coffee shop and she was selling her amazing pies at the same venue. She had lost a lot of weight and had obviously started to struggle with her condition. I felt so badly for her. “Yeah, I’ve had this for about 25 years,” she tells me with a wry smile. “Now they say it’s time for a new liver!” I am no expert, but I could see that.

“I’ll do it, Mum,” my daughter tells me. “If it was my Mum needing a liver, I would hope someone would step up too.” She was the right age and blood type. This could actually happen. I couldn’t believe her generosity of spirit to put her own life on hold to help someone else’s mother. And so, she put herself forward, completing all the necessary paperwork and counseling that was necessary. Her large heart scared me to pieces.

At the benefit for Rita’s liver transplant in King City, I was so very delighted and amazed by how many people came out to support her and her family. The love in the room was tangible that night. Rita’s very own famous pies raised $12,000 and $17,000 each in the Live Auction — yes for one pie, not a truckload! Literally tens of thousands of dollars were raised that evening to help the family get through this very difficult period in their lives — and, in addition, the living donor who might come along to save her life — our fingers and toes were firmly crossed for that miracle.

The event also raised enormous awareness for the importance of being an organ donor, testing to be a liver donor in this case and how wonderful it is that the liver can regenerate itself so very quickly and completely. The parameters for being accepted as a donor were slim however, and most of her peers would not qualify. We were too old to be able to help, or with the wrong blood type. The clock was ticking swiftly on, and it was not in her favor.

It looked as if my daughter would be moving forward to the next stage of testing. She was required to spend a day up in Stanford and undergo a series of blood tests and then an MRI of the liver. I went along as her driver. I had never been to Stanford before. What a fascinating place — like a medical institution, but not really. An eerie calm pervaded the hallways, an air of distinguishment you don’t experience in other medical buildings, but still it was entirely medical and, if you were in doubt of anything and looked around yourself, it was clear that we were surrounded by some very unwell looking folk — a bit of a dream sequence to be honest.

As a potential donor, you don’t pay anything for these tests, which is also very odd in the U.S. You hand over your health insurance card, but it won’t be used. The check-in folk seemed surprised when my daughter presented herself as a potential donor, not that we know what an average donor looks like. I had read through all the info from Stanford about donating a liver and the science struck me as truly phenomenal. You can donate a portion of your liver to a person in need and you will be near back to normal within 2-3 months with that person’s life saved. Their recovery will be even quicker than yours. Sounds simple, doesn’t it.

It had been a very long day indeed once we stepped out of the campus at Stanford with the light fading. My daughter had donated 28 vials of blood and eaten nothing all day. That was likely the worst part of it for her.

It took a few days before they let her know that her liver levels were not healthy enough for her to be a donor and she was very disappointed. “I had wanted to do that for Rita,” she expressed to me. Not to say she could not donate later, but for now she had to work on her own liver condition and get it back to a healthier state.

I immediately told Rita and she was so disappointed. All these roller coaster rides of getting hopes up and then for them to be quickly quashed and all the time she is feeling more and more unwell. There were a couple more donors tested and rejected before the message comes over on a Friday night. “She’s been in surgery since 8am. 8-10 hour operation.” What! What? Such joyous news and on her 60th birthday as well.

A group of us who had been rallying around her — self-titled Team Rita — started bouncing off the walls. I couldn’t eat my dinner. This was enormous news. We couldn’t stand ourselves. “How is she?” The operation went well, the message came back. “She is in recovery in ICU.” Oh, that marvelous Stanford hospital, the selfless donor who must have had organ donor listed on their driving license or known to family and who was now saving Rita’s life.

So many thoughts scattered around my nighttime brain that I couldn’t properly sleep or put my mind on a timeout. I wanted to deliver a large slice of virtual birthday cake to her and say, “See girl, just in time for your birthday, as we discussed!” Though the discussion had been around my girl’s donation, not someone else’s, the cheer is the same, the result equally fabulous. She is going to be OK.

Brooke, Josh, Paul and the rest of the family will be looking forward to celebrating many more birthdays and occasions with Rita. I cannot wait for the homecoming celebration when we can look her in the eye and already see the improved health coming back to her. It has been quite the journey for them all these past few years and now they will be able to look forward to some good health and happier days ahead.

If you have ever considered being an organ donor, please make it happen. What use will your organs be to you anyway, once your heart has stopped beating? I have my status as an organ donor firmly in place and my family knows my wishes. Please share this story of love and hope with anyone out there waiting for a miracle.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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