The (Birthday) Gift of Life: My Brother’s Liver Transplants

My brother received a liver transplant the day before his 15th birthday but soon needed another.

| 3 min read
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Morgan Barrett
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My little brother Mason turned 15 years old under anesthesia and in between two liver transplants. A procedure that we wholly expected to be “standard” turned into a nightmarish state of panic without any warning.

Mason was born with cystic fibrosis and was later diagnosed with CF-related liver disease. He was placed on the transplant list earlier this year, and on Oct. 19, 2016, he had the first of his two transplants. Mason received part of the liver from a living donor. As far as we knew, everything went perfectly well in the operating room, putting him on track for a speedy recovery.

October 20 was Mason's 15th birthday, and just as we were beginning his “birthday party” in the pediatric intensive care unit, one of the transplant surgeons came in and breathlessly asked everyone except for my parents to clear out of the room. A serious complication of transplantation called graft failure had occurred, and Mason's transplanted liver could not be saved. Mason was placed back on the transplant list, and he needed another liver immediately. We crumbled. Our family leaned on each other for support as we each tried to process what we had just been told. It wasn't supposed to happen this way.

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That night and the next day were the scariest hours of our lives as we nervously waited for a new donor organ. The transplant team said it was too risky to consider another living donor. Our only option was a cadaver donor (the liver of someone who had died), and all we could do was wait and pray.

We soon learned the power of prayer and the importance of being an organ donor. The next day, the same surgeon who delivered the bad news rushed in to give us the best news of our lives: a new donor had been identified and approved, and another liver was on its way! The exhilaration and relief that we all felt (there were more than 10 of us in the waiting room) in that moment was indescribable!

In the early morning hours of October 22, Mason went into surgery for his second liver transplant, this time with a whole liver donated by someone whose life had to end to save my brother's. Again, we anxiously waited. Finally, Mason's surgeon came out into the waiting room to let us know that everything had gone very well, and Mason was doing great!

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Since that day, Mason has continued to improve, and as of this writing, his liver numbers are within normal range for the first time in his life! We are incredibly grateful for the donor's lifesaving gift, and while we don't know anything about the donor or his or her family, we hope that they have some peace knowing that the loss of their loved one's life saved someone else's.

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It is easy to become an organ donor. To register yourself, you can go to www.organdonor.gov or www.cff.org/organize. It takes less than five minutes, and by doing so, you could save up to eight lives.

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Morgan lives with her husband, Kory, and twin babies, Alder and Winslow, in rural northeast Kansas where she enjoys gardening and chicken-keeping. She has many interests and is always entertaining her curiosity, but her mainstays are spending time outside, reading, writing, photography, and cultivating a relationship with plants. She grew up with two younger siblings, Allison and Mason, who also live with CF. You can follow her on Instagram. P.S. Beets, Bears, Battlestar Galactica.

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