A liver for Chelsea

I learned of Chelsea last week and my heart broke in two reading of her story. I read every page on her website and took in each word.

To refresh your memory, hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC, is the adult form of liver cancer that my doctor discovered I had in May, 2010, which led me to transplant 3.5 months later.

21 year old Chelsea was diagnosed with HCC at age 4 and was treated with 40 chemo treatments and several surgeries. I don’t know her story in detail, but I’m sure she dealt with much more, including the emotional agony of growing up in hospitals.

Her mother gave her a partial liver transplant at age 7 and it lasted 7 years longer than it was projected (14 total). However, she endured some complications that left her liver damaged. All of the issues had caused strain on her kidneys, and she was forced onto dialysis. She lived at Cleveland Clinic in the ICU for a long period of time as she waited for a rare liver: intact (vs. partial), small (her years of illness caused her to be small), and O- blood type. As I know from my nursing experience, type O isn’t the easiest type to match.

Since Chelsea is my age, with my disease, with a history of several illnesses, and the same transplant team as I have, I felt an instant connection. We share so much in common. I wished I could do something to encourage or help her.

My mom was watching late night news tonight, and then there it was – the newscaster said the words “liver transplant” so I instantly looked up. Chelsea’s picture came onto the screen just as they said she lost her battle today. Chelsea had gotten a liver last night and from the times posted on her website, it seems as if her body succumbed during the actual transplant.

Tears came to my eyes, and I gasped. I told my mom the whole story, and she was upset as well. Then she told me how blessed I am.

When people like Chelsea are out there, I don’t feel as blessed. I’m so caught up in the “Why me?” “Why her?” questions. Why did I live through the surgery while Chelsea didn’t? She was a year or two younger than me at the time of her transplant so you’d think she’d have a better chance than me. I was small and needed a rare donor as well, yet I waited only 3.5 months. I never got to that point where I was in the ICU for days like Chelsea, or, like my hospital roommate last month, in end-stage liver failure, full of several liters of fluid that needed drained regularly. Who chooses who suffers most? Who chooses who gets it worse before some kind of intervention – supernatural, surgical, or otherwise?

All transplant patients have unique bonds. We share each other’s struggles and triumphs. We wish we could take the pain from any fellow one, whether we know them or just hear their story. We are all entered – involuntarily – into this club, the Transplant Club, and if death or complications harm any of our brothers or sisters, well that just won’t work for us. We put up a fight because we have been there. The hit is too close to home.

Who chooses who has tragic complications? Why can’t we all triumph through? Why can’t our youngest ones pull through to live happy, healthier lives? Doesn’t it seem obvious?

I’m grieving for a girl who I never knew. She’s my transplant sister, so I love her anyways. I wanted to send her a card telling her my story and how I was pulling and praying for her. I was hoping my story would encourage her to keep pulling through, to give her more hope to keep going another day. Sadly, she’ll never see my card.

Rest in peace, sweet Chelsea. All of your transplant brothers and sisters are crying for you today. We pray for your family and friends and hope even in your death, your story will live on and continue spreading to thousands of people, giving everyone courage, strength, and perspective, inspiring each one to ultimately donate life.

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