“Organ donation is the single most selfless gift anyone could give. Recycled parts go a long way.” – Michelle, Green Bay
In November 2012, at 34 years young, Michelle noticed yellowing in her eyes. “The only reason I was paying that much attention to my eyes was because I was using a product to grow my eyelashes. It was strange.” Mom of 4-year-old Kaeden, and neurosurgical nurse doesn’t recall any other symptoms. “Sure, I was fatigued and had the occasional pain in my abdomen, but what single mom working 60 hours a week doesn’t feel tired?”
Her blood work from her physician at Aurora BayCare showed her liver enzymes were extremely high. After a complete work-up they discovered a 14 centimeter cancerous tumor on her liver, involving both lobes. “I was basically being poisoned by my own bile,” she recalls. “At the moment they told me, I was in shock.”
A liver transplant was her only option…and was not a common protocol for cancer.
Advocacy & Collaboration
When she met Dr. Ajay K. Sahajpal, transplant surgeon at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, she knew she was in the best of care. “He told me they were going to get me healthy enough to get me home and then find me a new liver,” said Michelle. “He was so reassuring and truly advocated on my behalf.”
While she was waiting for a liver, Michelle traveled from Green Bay to Aurora Sinai Medical Center for several rounds of chemo embolization while receiving ongoing oncology treatment at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic in Green Bay. They knew it wouldn’t save her liver, but it would buy her some time as she waited for a transplant.
“I was so grateful for the collaboration among the staff,” says Michelle. “Everyone communicated well with each other and I didn’t have to answer the same questions all the time or worry about forgetting something. As a nurse, I really understand all the work that goes in to making that happen for a patient. Being on the other side of it meant so much.”
It took five months for Michelle to be placed on the transplant list because of issues with health insurance. “Now, I tell people to check their employers’ health plans regarding organ transplant. Some just haven’t been updated or kept up with medical advancements now available. They just aren’t aware.”
On March 1, Michelle was officially put on the liver transplant list.
Surprisingly, she received her new liver March 8.
Michelle calls her donor, her “angel.” She has little information about her, knowing only that she is female and emigrated from Somalia. Michelle hopes to one day meet the family and learn more about her.
“One year after my transplant I was finally able to sit down and start writing a letter to my angel’s family,” Michelle said. “I had tried a million times before but never seemed to find the right words. I know I will never truly be able to thank them enough. She gave me life and the chance to see my son grow up.”
It was a big celebration when Michelle and Kaeden were reunited, after so many months apart. “The biggest defining moment in my recovery was the first day I could pick up my son again,” Michelle recalls. “I was so sick and weak then, but now I am feeling good. And I am going to be okay.”
Michelle knows her life expectancy last November was 3-6 months. It has been one year since she received her donated liver.
“Transplant has opened my eyes to a lot of things,” she says. “You get busy. You make excuses for not doing things or not spending time with family or kids. I was an involved parent before – but now I am sure our time together is all quality time. I make the most of it.”
April is National Donate Life Month
Register as an organ donor today and talk to your loved ones today about your wishes as an organ donor.