More story sharing: “A Wounded Healer – Amanda Goodwin”

I was recently interviewed and photographed for my college’s newspaper, the Kent Stater.  I want to thank the writer who was in contact so many times and took the time to  write such a lengthy article.  It was such an honor to publicly share my story, again, and I pray that this new audience has a chance to be inspired by the story God has blessed me with.

Unfortunately, there were several inaccuracies in the story.  I’m not sure if I didn’t describe something well enough to the writer or perhaps he took too much literary freedom, but this is the link to the article, and I will post it below with my corrections in [brackets]. If you’d like to share the article, please share it from this link where everything is 100% accurate.

A Wounded Healer: Amanda Goodwin
by Mark Oprea

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The soon-to-be bride walks around the daylight in her house, cradling her 10-pound white shichon Haylie up against her chest. She smiles with rose-colored lips. Her almond hair curls into her chin. Her dog looks up at her with beady eyes, a pocket-sized pink bow behind [her] ear.

The mother follows her with words about the wedding shower; the father quips relentlessly through his fatherly grin. Bridesmaids begin to show up in a row, letting the unforgiving cold seep in from the driveway. A five-foot-tall Eiffel Tower [set up for the wedding shower] shines with gold in the dining room. There is still a month or two for things to go wrong.

“We’re not ready to have [the wedding] tomorrow,” she said about the ceremony, “if that’s what you’re asking.”

She is happy. She is nervous. Her name is Amanda Goodwin. She is 27, and she will be married this April.

Amanda has achieved several milestones in the past few months, her latest graduating after nearly a decade in college. Last year, her boyfriend Scott proposed to her. She’s been smiling more often, her mother, Pam, said.

Ever since Amanda was 5 years old, she has had chronic liver disease.

After nearly two decades suffering from the effects of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) — a disease that scars bile receptors in the liver, causing an eventual shutdown — Amanda has been through cycles of hope and despair, often buffeted by late-night phone calls from the intensive care unit [I have never in my life called the intensive care unit.  Maybe he meant my transplant team?]. As someone erudite in medicine, Amanda likes to think of herself as a “wounded healer,” someone who’s experienced firsthand what others only study. For her, it’s been an 18-year-long test.

Moving to Munroe Falls at the age of 9, Amanda spent most of her childhood indoors. She was a “book-smart, intellectual type of girl,”said Pam, the opposite of her varsity softball-star sister, Nikki.

At the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (CVCA), she latched onto the interests of a straight-A student, shot for a solid 4.0 GPA and adored the arts. Even at a young age, Amanda was aware of the research behind PSC. She and her family knew very well that a liver transplant was an inevitable episode — still the only cure known for such a disease. Most PSC patients’ livers last, on average, a decade.

“My doctor said it could happen tomorrow, it could happen when you’re 60 years old,” Amanda said. “I thought I would be a grandma and have grandchildren by the time surgery would come around.”

Yet in the unmeasured meantime, Amanda lived a life bound by the limits of PSC. Some nurses who ran across her case often mistook alcoholism as the culprit of her precarious liver. (She doesn’t even drink.) She often needed 10 hours of sleep or more each day due to ongoing fatigue.  Despite that, Amanda graduated high school in 2005 looking forward to attending Kent State. She had control for the time being.

After a brief stint in the College of Business Administration — her father Keith’s go-to suggestion, owning a successful heating and cooling business himself — Amanda turned to the School of Nursing based on a gut feeling.

As a [nanny], one of the only jobs Amanda could work at the time, she admired the notion of caring for people. The remaining nudge came from introspection.

“Because I’ve been sick since I was a kid. I knew all about the health care system, and patients, and what it’s to be on the other side, being a patient,” she said. “And I thought, ‘What better way to use my journey than to help people and be a nurse?’”

So she did.

Over the next five years, Amanda plunged through Kent State’s rigorous pre-nursing program and into nursing school. She took nutrition and studied genetics in-depth (research continues on the potential for a genetic cause of PSC). Yet eight to 12-hour clinicals brought out the worst in Amanda’s fibromyalgia and fatigue, and her [family] noticed. 

But Amanda had her plan — her usual “goal-mindedness.” She knew what her body was and wasn’t capable of. Above all, she had the will. She decided to continue clinicals despite doctors’ warnings. One even told her to drop out of nursing school.

***

It was right after a 2010 family trip to Disney World when Amanda went in for an annual test ordered by her [gastroenterologist], Dr. Vera Hupertz — a family friend by then —  a run-of-the-mill CT scan of her abdomen. [This was a] typical procedures ever since she was five: nothing imminent was expected.

[The next day, Amanda and her mom visited with Dr. Hupertz.] Hupertz’s voice sounded a little off as she spoke.

“I don’t know how to say this,” she said to Amanda. “I feel horrible saying this to you.”

The CT scan, she told her, showed a sizable tumor on Amanda’s liver. A transplant was vital and had to come sooner rather than later. She and her mother let tears flow. For Amanda, behind the wall were [not only feelings of loss and fear, but] feelings of joy and relief. A new liver would revitalize her body, effectively removing the chronic effects of cirrhosis her “malfunctioning” organ claimed.

“Still, we were honestly shocked,” Amanda said, “because it was the last thing on our minds. Also, we had the fear of whether or not I would make it through surgery or not. It was a very sobering time for all of us.”

Thus began the period of waiting on the organ recipient list. She spent days indoors, diverting a wavering mind through Netflix, [crafts, reading, and] her Bible for solace against pain. She started journaling, even turning her [journey] into a purple-and-green scrapbook. What paired with the laundry list of CT scans, chemotherapy and endoscopies was a deep plunge into the world of transplant survivors[, joining support groups, and learning from them. After [becoming a volunteer] with LifeBanc, she soon had others putting on shoes for her. A “Walk for Amanda” [during Lifebanc’s annual Gift of Life Walk and Run] was organized in mid-August.

For [three] months, Amanda’s transplant liver was still somewhere out there, waiting for her. She was at a moral crossroads. For Amanda to live, she had to wait for someone to die.

***

About 1 a.m. on August 31, 2010, the phone rang again and the family crowded around the receiver. It was her coordinator at the [Cleveland Clinic]. She told Amanda resounding news: they found [a liver] her size.

All Amanda knows about her organ donor was that he was a teenage male who passed away in an “unspecified accident,” a boy still without a name.

With more excitement than anxiety, the Goodwin family nearly “flew” to the Cleveland Clinic. They knew well the [85] percent [three-year] survival rate. They said a prayer and Amanda [was admitted into the hospital] sometime around 3:00 a.m. This was it, she thought. This was the goodbye to PSC.

“This should be a perfect match for me,” Amanda wrote in a blog entry right before her surgery. “I am so close to a new life. Being healthy is on the horizon!”

Lying on the hospital bed that morning, Amanda thought about her circumstances. She felt lucky and blessed – and not just for herself. She found out from the procurer that the new liver was not only saving her life: ¼ of it was destined for an infant.

The sun shone through the blinds in the windows as Amanda’s [parents and close friend watched the nurse wheel] her hospital bed away [towards the operating room.]

Keith remembers last seeing Amanda before her bed left the elevator, waving goodbye alongside Pam [and Amanda’s friend Jen] as she headed to the operating room. It was around [6:00] that evening when the team of doctors finally assembled.

“The thing was, we didn’t know if we were going to be seeing her again.” Keith said. “That’s what was on my mind the whole time.”

The surgery lasted eight hours. Her family was present the entire time.

By 1:30 a.m. the next day, Amanda was out of the operating room. Doctors were surprised at how well the operation went.

***

She was a new person. She was strong. She missed her dog most of all.

The pathway to recovery, Amanda knew, would be lined with tubes administering pain medication — [Fentanyl and] Morphine — others feeding a liquid diet [or breathing for her].  She looked down at her abdomen: 50 staples assembled in the shape of a chevron (a Mercedes-Benz logo, as Amanda puts it). The pain was telling and overwhelming. She gained 30 pounds in fluids alone that week.

As soon as she regained consciousness, Amanda’s logic kicked in. Her education was, at the time, lifesaving.

“Especially with my nursing background,” she said, “I knew that if I didn’t get out of bed and move my body somewhat, I wouldn’t be on my way up.”

She started walking slowly up and down the halls of the Cleveland Clinic. It seemed like a race to Amanda — an “Olympic sport” — and she ran as if she had been preparing her whole life. She mastered her medication intake and lost 10 pounds in one day. She knew every doctor and nurse by their first name, as they were like her. She imagined herself in their places.

But being immunosuppressed as a result of organ [transplantation], doctors told Amanda true body regularity would take months, even a year. She walked and walked despite the time ahead of her. She left the Cleveland Clinic on a Saturday morning. Her mother drove her back to Munroe Falls on an afternoon without a cloud in the sky.

At home, Haylie was waiting for her [at the door].

“Seeing her was proof that I was home,” she said.

What was supposed to be a new life for Amanda was merely another side of the same coin. Adjusting to her new liver meant repeated trips back to the “Liver Clinic” for CT scans (to check for any signs of a returned tumor [or issues with blood flow]), redressing surgical wounds and intake of pain [and anti-rejection] medication. Her body, as she knew, would take [some time to get past the time of the highest chance of] organ rejection. Or as Amanda puts it, “my body was attacking itself from the inside.”

Problems became so frequent that Pam learned how to dress and clean Amanda’s “cratering” wound herself — knowing, just like her proto-nurse daughter, how to attend to it tactfully. Her father had to readjust Amanda’s bed so she wouldn’t have to climb up to sleep in it. She would lie awake late at night examining with her fingers the 90 or so swollen bumps on her abdomen. More tears came. This time, those of exasperation.

“The stamina just wasn’t there for her,” Pam said. “After the transplant her immune system was shot, and the medication she was on was just making it worse.”

After a month and a half, the girl with the incision was starting to show healing signs. She was weary from the side effects of immunosuppressant drugs and steroids (she recalls restaurant menus “shaking”) but began to live somewhat of a normal life. She resumed [nannying] and her work with LifeBanc, but most important of all was the plan to return to nursing school the following spring.

The problem was that Amanda, even after transplant surgery, was able to handle clinicals even less than she was pre-operation. Doctors told her that even if she did make it through nursing school, her suppressed immune system would prevent her from working around ill patients. [For example,] caring for a sick 7-year-old with mono, could mean, for Amanda, a month in the hospital. “Fighting tooth and nail” to continue her dream of becoming a nurse wasn’t enough. She had to look elsewhere.

Her answer laid in Kent State’s College of Public Health, where she picked up online classes in the fall of 2011. Through several [additional abdominal] surgeries, [such as] a splenectomy [and reconstructive surgery], Amanda [succeeded] through courses in the college, even traveling to the World Health Conference in Geneva in 2013. She met her soon-to-be fiancé Scott the following July. He asked her out on a coffee date, and Amanda said, “we just sort of fell in love.”

In August 2014, Amanda graduated from Kent State with a focus in Education and Promotion, nearly four years after her transplant surgery. She lists it as one of her most noted accomplishments to this day, one drenched in trials and tribulations.

The “wounded healer” had finally made her mark. The surgeon’s knife had only cut so deep. The lessons of life continue to pour from her endlessly like the love she transfuses to others, her dog Haylie included — and maybe most of all.

“You can be at the end of your rope, you can be where there literally is no hope,” she said, “and you can still be able to pick yourself back up.”

It was in the fall of 2014 when Amanda’s doctor at the Cleveland Clinic sat her down after analysis. Future warnings aside, he smiled with good news.

He told her, “You can go on with life now. You can start to live.”

***

It will be a small wedding, she says. Roughly two dozen people, no more. [A large 300-people will come two weeks later.] The “wedding explosion” in the Goodwins’ basement will disappear come the Saturday of the reception.

“And then afterwards,” Amanda says, “we can all finally rest.”

She cradles and kisses Haylie behind her ear, talking about her and Scott’s house hunt, their plans to settle in the area by the fall. She wants kids. She wants to travel to France again, along with Italy. All this, she says, comes with time.

An end to Amanda’s journey isn’t finalized. She still returns for clinic checkups every so often, and even spent two weeks in the hospital in December after she became ill. (“I’m not bad,” she admits, “just unstable sometimes.”) She continues to volunteer for LifeBanc and hopes to work for them professionally one day. And to forget her donor would be to forget where she’s going and where she’s been. It’s [part of] what makes her story her “gift.”

“I’m just happy to be living life,” she writes in a recent journal entry. “Aren’t you?”

This journey…

As some of you know, I (finally) graduated in August after 9 years in college.  And as some of you also know, for all of those years, I fought and fought to get ahead despite my many health challenges.  I had to take a year off after a car accident, another year off after my liver transplant, and semesters off for my subsequent abdominal surgeries.

I began college in 2005 pursuing my nursing degree at Kent State.  I excelled and felt like I had found my calling.  I can’t even describe how I felt when caring for my patients.  It gratified my soul so deeply knowing I was able to give back to people in need, encourage them, or help them through a hard time.  I earned high grades in a rough, competitive program and made friends with my instructors.  It sounds like the perfect story, right?

Well, I was still battling a life-threatening liver disease.  I could barely make it through an 8 hour clinical shift without feeling like my body was going to fall apart.  The work was very physical, and it set off my fibromyalgia and arthritis pain in the worst way imaginable.  The stress of a, well, high-stress program wore me thin.  24-7, I was either sleeping, studying, or in class/clinical, even in the summer.  My body suffered so much during these years, and I believe it sustained permanent damage from me not listening to it, but I was doing so well at my school work, thriving as I was being continuously challenged, and enjoying the patients so much.

Then came the tumor that randomly appeared on my liver. At the end of a very normal semester in nursing school, a routine CT scan showed it clearly.  The tumor was inoperable and in a location that made it untestable.  We were to proceed, assuming the worst: cancer.

I was quite literally told to put my entire life on hold and then fight for it.

I wasn’t ready for any of that or anything else that came that summer.  Who is?  No one is ever truly ready when these things happen.

God gave me so much peace during that summer – so dramatically noticeable that I will never be able to deny it.  However, all of the tests, the chemo… there was so much physical pain.

Then came the pinnacle of physical pain and the resumption of emotional and mental pain.  More like anguish.  The surgery caused the absolute worst pain – pain, after 18 years of liver disease, that I never even knew was possible.  I had to learn to eat again, walk again, go up stairs again.  Every muscle in my abdomen had been cut through, and I became quite skilled at protecting my excruciating abdomen where 50 staples once lived.   I had to learn to live with an even more fragile immune system than I had before.  The first 6 months, for these reasons and more, were torture.  If it weren’t for the outpouring of love and support from so many people and the knowledge that a young man died so I could live, I don’t know if I could have gotten through it.

After living like that for awhile, you are pretty much begging for life to go back to normal.  My doctors advised me to take one year off of school to completely recover, but I, Ms. Type A, was determined I was going to return to school for spring semester, 2011, barely 4.5 months after my surgery.

As I was told, I crashed and burned.  So that semester never really amounted to anything even though I tried.

Around that time, I saw my infectious disease doctor.  These doctors specialize in keeping transplant patients (who are immunocompromised) safe from any type of communicable (contagious/transmittable) illness and are highly trained in what they do.  My doctor told me, in no uncertain terms, that nursing school was not an option with my new immune system.  I began taking anti-rejection medications to prevent my body from rejecting my new organ, and as a result, the medications suppressed my immune system.  She told me I would catch anything my patients had and even basic illnesses could turn into “worst case scenarios” with my immune system.  (Which last month, we found to be true – blog post coming up soon.)  I had some acceptance issues so for the time being, she wrote a letter for me to be excused from seeing any patients with communicable illnesses.  Even without contagious patients, being in a hospital a couple days a week, I knew I was walking on thin ice.  Germs are everywhere in hospitals, and anyone working in one leaves covered in a multitude of bacteria.

I proceeded like this for awhile until I eventually was able to get to a point of acceptance and heed my doctor’s advice. It was a long, emotionally difficult process for me.

The end of my nursing career was more of a move out of desperation and the realization that I had ZERO options left.  I could not even begin to tell you the options I tried – I was like a crazy person looking into everything and consulting everyone I could trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Even if I could get through school, any job I took would require me being with sick patients.  If I wanted a job on a “not sick” unit such as case management, I would need 2 years of experience on a typical unit with sick patients.  I had literally exhausted all options when I, myself exhausted, heard about a newer college at Kent State – the College of Public Health.  The rest is history.

In an effort to publicize their growing online options, Kent State has been interviewing students with unique experiences who ended up being successful with online-only baccalaureate programs.  An employee interviewed me and wrote up an article, and it hit a major Cleveland news station today.  Go ahead and check it out to see how the story ended, or rather, continued.

I hope that my story first of all, provides someone with hope, that they, too, can overcome any struggle and end up successful and happy.  I don’t believe the “you can accomplish everything you put your mind to” myth.  What’s best for you is all that will work out. Each of us is incapable of doing certain things well, and perhaps this is God’s way of letting us find our true calling using our individual genuine gifts.  I believe we need to try our hardest and fight for what we want to achieve, but when that’s not possible and we have truly exhausted all options, we need to know when to stop and fight for a new dream, always believing a Higher Power is orchestrating something greater than we could ever know.

Secondly, I hope that this story honors my donor.   Someone lost their teenage son, and solely because of that tragedy, I’m alive to tell my story, his story.  It’s my highest honor.

None of this is without extreme gratitude and humility.  I have done none of this on my own but faced each day at a time and fought for my life, both literally and figuratively.  I owe every bit of this to God, my donor, my super supportive friends and family, my amazing transplant surgeon, Dr. Eghtesad, and world-class team of doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, the deans and instructors at the KSU College of Public Health, and the enormous support of the Student Accessibility Services on campus.

As seen on WKYC:

Amanda

Liver transplant patient completes Kent State degree

She completed almost three years of nursing school when doctors said it was time for a liver transplant.

AKRON, Ohio — Amanda Goodwin of Akron, Ohio, is no stranger to adversity. When she was 5 years old, she was diagnosed with a progressive liver disease that would eventually require a liver transplant.

In May 2010, she had completed almost three years of nursing school and was doing really well when doctors discovered a tumor and said it was time for a transplant.

“My doctors advised me to not move forward in nursing because I was so susceptible to possible infections due to an immunosuppressant drug I had to begin taking,” Goodwin explained. “That wasn’t easy to hear.”

Despite having to take nearly a year off to recuperate, Goodwin still wanted to finish a degree from Kent State University.

“So I was looking at my options, and I heard that Kent State’s College of Public Health offered a number of online options,” Goodwin said. “I thought that would be perfect for me because I was recovering and actually required two more abdominal surgeries. I couldn’t attend classes regularly, but I was still interested in pursuing a degree in healthcare. So I decided to transfer to a public health program at Kent State because it’s all online and if I needed help, campus was only 15 minutes away.”

Despite her health issues, Goodwin participated in a two-week intensive course in Geneva, Switzerland, in May 2013. Ken Slenkovich, assistant dean of Kent State’s College of Public Health, led the trip.

“During the trip to Geneva, I got to know Assistant Dean Slenkovich, and he was nothing but supportive though everything,” Goodwin said. “Throughout my time in the College of Public Health, everyone on his staff worked closely with me, even when I had health setbacks.”

Slenkovich was immediately impressed with Goodwin.

“The trip afforded me the time to spend with her, and I found her to be a delightful and bright young lady,” Slenkovich said. “She’s very passionate about public health and wants to apply her knowledge to help people.”

“I’m healthier now,” Goodwin said with a laugh. “And I’m happy to say I graduated last August.”

Goodwin, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health with a concentration in health promotion and education, is enthusiastic when talking about taking classes online.

“I loved the public health online program,” Goodwin said. “I loved every class I took. I focused my studies on health education and promotion, and I really thrived. Everything was so organized. The notes were there, the videos were there, the links – everything.”

Given her occasionally uneven stamina during her recovery, Goodwin loved the ability to work on her classes on her own schedule.

“I was able to maintain my grades and do it on my time,” she said “I’m so glad I found that program because otherwise I don’t know what I would be doing right now.”

She also enjoyed getting to know other students in the online program.

“I interacted with lots of other online students,” Goodwin said. “It’s funny because I didn’t meet them in person until graduation.”

Goodwin is especially pleased that she can still work in the healthcare field.

“With my degree, I feel like I can help just as many people, if not more, than I would with a nursing degree,” Goodwin said. “It’s just that it would be in a different form. I can still help people.”

As for the future, Goodwin is busy planning her wedding this spring, and she’s optimistic about the future.

“I would love to work at Lifebanc, which is Northeast Ohio’s organ donation and procurement agency,” Goodwin said. “That would be my dream job. I may have an opportunity to complete a master’s degree, so that might be in my future.”

Kent State is a leader in the state and the nation in offering online courses and degrees. Since 2009, online enrollment at Kent State has grown 900 percent, and the number of online instructors at Kent State has grown from 86 to more than 600.

Kent State’s College of Public Health was established in 2009 to educate and train students to meet the current and projected shortage of public health professionals in Ohio and the nation. It is one of only two colleges of public health in Ohio and the first to offer a Bachelor of Science in Public Health. Its academic programs integrate theory and practice to equip graduates with the knowledge and skills to address the health challenges of the 21st century.

Photo credit: Stephanie Doyle

Life with a Liver Transplant (Featured Interview)

My transplant sister Jewel features individuals with health obstacles and shares their stories on her blog, Jewel’s Kidney. She was sweet enough to share my story a couple months ago, and I’d love to share her site and the interview with you here. If you enjoy my blog, I know you’d love the stories on her site as well.

Life With… A Liver Transplant by Jewel, featuring Amanda Goodwin

Welcome back to “Life with…”.  And y’all, this is a good one.  Amanda’s story is incredibly inspiring. Going through her interview I laughed, I cried, I shouted “AMEN,” I nodded in agreement and at the end, I smiled. I love hearing these types [of] stories, reading about the battles fought and victories celebrated in this war against chronic illness.  And Amanda is a true warrior.  And if  you don’t feel amped after reading this then, I don’t know what to tell you.  So, without anymore rambling from me, meet Amanda!

Amanda Goodwin, blogger at “Crazy Miracle”

In one sentence, who are you?

A passionate dreamer who loves life, loves people, and is grateful for every part of my story.

What are you passionate about? 

I’m passionate about my hopes, my beliefs, my loved ones, making people feel special, traveling, and learning new things.  I love doing anything and everything with my fiancé and planning our spring, 2015 wedding. I also enjoy reading, getting crafty, and snuggling with my 9 pound dog, Haylie.

Tell the readers a little about your disease/ailment/illness/syndrome/healthannoyance, and what it was like when you were first diagnosed.

I was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, an autoimmune disease affecting the bile ducts and blood vessels in the liver, at the age of five in the early 1990s.  It was so scary because not only is this liver disease so rare, but I was only five years old and had no idea what was happening to me and why I was enduring so many painful procedures and treatments in the hospital.  I didn’t know why I had to miss a lot of school for doctors’ visits and hospitalizations, or why I couldn’t play rough sports with the other kids in gym class.  Thankfully, the disease stayed stable for years, and when I was 22 years old, my doctor found a tumor in my liver.  We were very afraid because this diagnosis necessitated a liver transplant, one of the most complicated surgeries of modern medicine.

Additionally, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2011 after a car accident in 2007 left me with severe, chronic pain.  Just this year, a rheumatologist told me that I’m also developing an autoimmune form of arthritis.  While it’s never exciting to receive diagnoses like these, it is sometimes comforting so that you know you’re not suffering with random pain without a cause.  Once you identify your disease, you are much more able to find helpful treatments and medications.

People with a chronic illness face a lot of challenges (A LOT)!  What’s one challenge that you’ve faced so far in your journey and how have you dealt with it?  

Physically, the chronic pain makes every day joys hard.  For example, I was on vacation last week, and standing all day in a museum or walking around the city would wreak havoc on my back, sending it into spasms for the rest of the day.  I would love to live just a few days without any pain and see how many things I could do!

Emotionally, fear has been a huge challenge for me.  When your health is always on the line, it’s easy to fear the “what ifs.”  I’ve cherished my Christian faith and my amazing support system as both have helped me stop dwelling on the future.  Also, cognitive therapy and medication has helped immensely, especially during painful or stressful times.

Who or what helps you make decisions about your health?

I have a background in nursing and a degree in public health, and when combined with 22 years of chronic illness, I have a great grasp on health in general.  I try to use natural methods when possible (such as rest, massage, or heat instead of pain medications, essential oils for simple ailments, etc.) and I avidly study treatments and conditions in scholarly publications to evaluate the research before beginning any treatment or having surgery.  I have an amazing team at the Cleveland Clinic who has taught me so much about my various health issues and consistently offers me all available treatments, and we go with what I think is best for my body along with each individual doctor’s recommendations.  I take great care to choose doctors who are well-versed in my specific illnesses, and they prove to be gold mines of information.

What was your transplant surgery like?  

The surgery itself went well, but the recovery was unlike anything I could have ever imagined or expected.  It was physically and emotionally challenging. If I knew what recovery was going to be like, I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to go through with the surgery.  I probably would have been too scared, especially now that I know the pain and complications that the surgery would entail.  My surgeons were truly gifted, but simply because of the complexity of a liver transplant, it was a long, arduous road.

What has your life been like since you had your transplant?  

Since I had liver disease 18 years before my transplant, I was always used to having a low immune system and balancing life with high levels of fatigue.  I was also used to taking medications and learning to listen to my body and rest when needed.  These things have continued to help me live the best life I can live since my transplant. Various complications occurred within the first few years after my surgery, and we had to finish all of my surgeries with reconstructive surgery due to the battlefield that had become my abdomen, but I take most health trials in stride because I’m so grateful that I’m alive with a beautiful, healthy liver.  And once you live through a transplant, I feel like everything else pales in comparison.

I have a ton of funny and memorable hospital stories.  Can you share one of yours?

Not sure if I have any funny stories, but definitely memorable ones.  Instead of seeing the transplant team, I now just see one of the surgeons because my case has gotten so complicated.  He’s one of the best in the world.  I had a full splenectomy a year after my transplant.  I was absolutely petrified of getting my surgical drains taken out because, well, unless you’ve had it done, I don’t even know how to describe it.  It feels like someone is pulling a snake out of your abdomen as it grazes all of your organs on the way out.  When it was time for my drain to come out, my experienced surgeon started having a conversation with me and engaging me in questions.  He carefully started pulling the drain while I was mid-story, and before I knew it, it was out!  I love him so much, for many more reasons than this.

What advice do you have for other people, young or old, who are waiting for a transplant?

Rally support.  Join support groups.  Ask your social worker to help you get in touch with other transplant patients so they can share their journeys with you.  Write down your questions, and get answers.  Get your family and friends on board because you are going to need all the support you can get.  Realize that recovery is hard and you are going to need help doing basic things for awhile. If anyone offers to help you, take them up on it.  Also, prepare mentally that recovery will be hard, but know you are strong enough.  Having a will to survive is critical. There are special things after a transplant that will affect your life (such as being on immune compromising medications) but you will get used to them sooner than you think.  You CAN live a great life once you get past your limitations.  You are receiving the GIFT of life itself, and that alone is worth all of the struggle or lifestyle changes you will be making.

And finally, what brings you joy?

Being alive.  Hearing other people’s stories.  Showing love to those who need it most.  I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life for a reason, and I try to live my life in a way that would honor my donor and make my giving heart content.

Thank you so much, Jewel, for getting the word out about life with a liver transplant.  Organ transplants – as Jewel knows because she received a kidney – are amazing, life-saving gifts, and the world needs more people to choose to #donatelife!

What Ebola prevention means for immunocompromised transplant patients

Ebola can be scary, especially for an immunocompromised transplant patient! (Especially in Cleveland/Akron where an Ebola patient traveled immediately before being diagnosed!) The media is going crazy with every lead they can find, and people are blowing things out of proportion on social media.

Instead of being consumed with fear, I decided to get some answers.

On my quest of separating facts from undue overreaction, I’ve generally avoided the media and stayed in-tune to the CDC and live airings of our local health departments, doctors at our top Cleveland hospitals, and government officials.

I’m speaking to you both as a fellow transplant patient and as a person experienced in nursing and holding a Public Health Education degree.

First of all, Ebola is not contagious unless someone is showing active symptoms. Second, Ebola is not airborne which means you won’t get it from sharing a bus or plane with someone who is showing symptoms. The only way to catch the virus is to handle bodily fluid of an Ebola victim and somehow get it into your body. This could be due to a paper cut on your finger that it seeps into or from transferring the substance to your face/mouth. And lastly, remember that anyone in contact with the virus may not show symptoms for 21 days. I’ll talk about that later.

As transplant patients, hand washing and avoiding sick people is drilled into our brains.

Believe it or not, that’s really all that applies with Ebola, as well.

Avoid anyone who was in contact either with an Ebola patient or anyone in quarantine. Wash your hands after going anywhere, before entering your home, after using the restroom, etc. Just use common sense.

I talked with my transplant surgeon who is renowned in several states around me, members of many boards, and has received training around the world. I have trusted him with my life for several years, and he is the best of the best. His exact words:

Just follow all the protective measures as you have been doing. No need to wear masks or surgical gloves when you go to the shopping mall or church or similar places. No need to cancel your travel plans if you have any. Just follow the general precautionary measures and don’t make life hell for yourself. No need to be in masks and gloves like what was seen frequently yesterday in airports and in planes.”

Knowledge is power, so go over to CDC’s website, and read up. Ask your doctors any questions you may have. They are all receiving constant training on any changes in the disease and are there to help you. You can also call 1-800-CDC-INFO, however if you are a transplant patient, I would start by calling your coordinator/surgeon.

Let’s believe in God to keep His children safe and rest in the knowledge we have of this virus.

Great links:
CDC Press Releases

CDC’s detailed pages on Ebola

Grateful

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I am so deeply grateful to be celebrating my fourth “transplantaversary” today. Yesterday marks the day I entered surgery to receive a new liver, and today marks the day that I awoke for the first time with new life within me.

Without my gift of life, I wouldn’t have received the opportunity to love again, complete my education, visit new countries across the world, become a godmother, meet new friends, touch more lives, or savor every ordinary day.

The journey has – at times – been treacherous and almost too much to bear. There has been fear and pain. But today, I live a beautiful, charmed life that has only been possible due to the generous gift of my organ donor and his family and the support of my family, friend, and even strangers around the world.  There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude.

Please consider signing up to be an organ donor, if you’re not already. It’s a pretty simple, yet empowering thing.  Just go to this website and sign up. Next time you renew your license, make sure that they put the tiny heart symbol on it, signifying your wishes. And most importantly, tell your family so they can authorize it when you’re not longer able to do so yourself.  120,000 people are waiting for what a lot of us take for granted.  18 of them die each day because there aren’t enough organ donors.  By signing up to be a donor, you can save up to 8 lives and heal up to 50.  Once you die, you won’t need any of your organs anymore, so why not share them with someone less fortunate than you? Think about it…  Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

With love and gratitude,

Amanda

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An update and an invitation

It’s been so long since my last update. I’ve been busy enjoying life and, oh, just getting engaged to my best friend and biggest, sweetest supporter. :) We are getting married in the spring, and we couldn’t be more excited.

View More: http://footstepsphotography.pass.us/goodwinengagement

I’m nearing four years with my new liver, and it is so healthy. I only have one more year of the hepatocellular carcinoma protocol and then I’m officially in the clear. I’m doing well since my last major surgery last August and the reconstruction has not only helped cosmetically but it has radically eliminated my adhesion pain. If you have had multiple whole-abdominal surgeries like I have and you suffer from pain from adhesions (or undiagnosed, piercing abdominal pain) please look into this. Insurance covered mine since it was done for medical reasons (adhesion pain). Before the surgery, I was going to the ER regularly for sharp, overwhelming abdominal pain, and I haven’t had to go in at all since the surgery. The surgery was pretty major, lots of staples (or was it stitches? I don’t remember), and I ended up in the ICU afterward due to almost going into sepsis, but the pain was completely worth it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

As I’m on immunosuppressants to prevent my body from rejecting my liver and suffer from a few chronic illnesses, my immune system is pretty weak. I have always been regularly sick, frequently on antibiotics, etc. I finally got fed up and saw a renowned ENT (ear nose throat) doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Geelan-Hansen. After one look in my throat, she suggested that she remove my tonsils. I had been told before that they were “cryptic tonsils,” which means that they were so swollen they would rest on the back of my throat. She told me it would be two weeks of the worst pain in my life (that’s a LOT of serious pain to beat!) and to stock up on all of the soft, cold foods I could find. I was afraid of what could possibly be more painful than a liver transplant but was pleasantly surprised how minimal the pain was. Eating Jell-O, ice cream, and oatmeal for two weeks in January was far worse than enduring the pain. However, my throat has not hurt a single time since recovery from surgery, and that is a big accomplishment for me!

I found myself calling Dr. Geelan-Hansen again this spring after half a dozen ear infections, and we decided to add tubes to my ears as well. This happened a couple weeks ago. Ear tubes help fluid drain out of ears rather than sit around and cause infections, and so far, I’m enjoying no more ear infections! I had them inserted under general anesthesia, and I’m definitely glad I did that as the post-op pain was pretty bad for about a day.

I have been so much better, as far as getting sick goes, since both surgeries.

Around the time of the tonsillectomy, I was getting overly upset about my chronic pain. Every single day, I was in excruciating pain, and anything I did just made it worse. As I’ve mentioned before, I have tried every single pain relief option (medication or treatment such as massage/physical therapy) for years and nothing has worked enough to continue it. A friend recommended that I see a local rheumatologist who almost cured her pain, but I had procrastinated because I didn’t think the doctor would be able to make much of a difference. This winter, I decided it couldn’t hurt to try. Dr. Azem was so compassionate and kind and also a genius. After one look at me, she had several points of evidence that I had psoriatic arthritis. She ordered some labs to rule out other things and upon a second visit, she confirmed the diagnosis. It’s basically an autoimmune form of arthritis that produces severely painful, swollen joints. It typically causes psoriasis, too, which is a skin disorder, but thankfully I don’t suffer from those symptoms at this time. So while I didn’t need any more diagnoses, I was happy that we now had some new treatment options to consider.

Between careful discussions with both my rheumatologist and my transplant team, we decided a drug called a biologic would be the best first course of treatment for my PsA. There are several biologics, all taken via injection or through an intravenous line (IV), and my doctor thought Enbrel would be the best treatment for to start with. I have been injecting myself weekly with Enbrel for around four months now, and I’m happy to say my pain has decreased. It hasn’t been a miracle drug, but I have noticed a difference in my pain levels. I am so thrilled to report that. The shots burn pretty badly, and I’m no baby when it comes to pain, but 30 minutes of icing my leg before the injection helps a little bit. I have some other ideas on reducing injection pain that I will share later after I try them.

I’m also experimenting with natural remedies like super foods and essential oils which I am loving and will share once I try a few more things I have in progress.

The PsA flare ups are horrible. (I have been having them before the diagnosis but I considered them to be fibromyalgia flares.) Flares are a short time (weeks/month) when the pain is completely out of control, and they come from absolutely no where without any warning. I’m thankful that there is also a treatment for PsA flares – steroids and pain medications. Steroids, while definitely not a drug I would choose to take, decrease the inflammation, and the non-narcotic prescription pain medications take the edge off.

Compared to my health at certain times in the past, I am so great. No big surgeries, no more chemo, no more balancing on the tightrope over death. I really couldn’t ask for anything more than I have now, both physically and in my personal life. Of course I sometimes still struggle with my new normal, and I wish I had as much energy or as low pain as “average” people, but this is my reality. This is what God has given me, and it’s my job to make the best of it and inspire others with the provision He has given me throughout the past 22 years of illness. Each day, I think of how much I owe to my organ donor for so many more opportunities to live my life to the fullest. I wish I could repay him in some way, so I just pray for his family and hope to meet him in heaven one day. He is my angel.

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Also, it’s that time of year again!! It’s my team’s 4th annual Lifebanc Gift of Life Walk & Run at Blossom Music Center! So far, we are going to surpass our record for biggest team in our team’s history! I am so blessed to have such a great support system to support such a life-changing organization as well as the fact that I’m alive because someone said “YES” to organ donation. Please click here to view more information. I am officially inviting you to be a part of a truly fun, exciting morning. Please consider joining our team or even donating the cost of tomorrow’s latte for the cause of organ donation in Northeast Ohio!

Love to you all.

A gift

Stacy Kramer, and TED, thank you so much for this.

I wouldn’t change my experience.  It profoundly altered my life in ways I didn’t expect… So the next time you’re faced with something that is unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain, consider, it just may be a gift.

Stacy Kramer, brain tumor survivor, so eloquently told the story I’ve relayed to countless individuals.  I think a lot of us who endure life-threatening illness come out to see what a gift it was.  As I’m sure it was for her too, many of my nights were sleepless; there was a lot of pain. I wondered a million times Why me? How can I get out of this? Please, can someone make this stop?!  But standing on the other side of the whole ordeal, as I am now, it’s so much easier to see how the longest days would make me a better person in all the ways I needed, introduce me to hundreds of people I could learn from or impact, and teach me that there is more to life than anyone ever had thought.

So grateful for my gift.  I wouldn’t wish it upon you (you wouldn’t be able to see it was a gift until it was all over anyways), but I’m thankful to God that he brought my scariest, darkest, most painful experiences into something I’m now so grateful for.  May His light keep shining through the darkness.