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!