From second cousins to ‘liver sisters’
Mar 30, 2020 01:39PM
By Alison Brimley
Drea Richardson with 1-year-old Destiny, recipient of her liver donation.
By Alison Brimley | [email protected]
Until last November, Drea Richardson of West Jordan had never even donated so much as a vial of blood. Richardson, a veterinarian and mother of three, is “petite” and doesn’t weigh enough.
But when a cousin posted on Facebook that her young daughter, 1-year-old Destiny, would need a liver transplant, Richardson felt she had to act.
“I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t at least try [to be Destiny’s donor],” she said.
Destiny was born with a metabolic disorder, diagnosed at four days old. And while doctors knew from the beginning that Destiny would need a liver transplant, it was too risky to perform the surgery on such a young infant. They knew the chances of success would be much greater if they waited until after her first birthday.
The Facebook post wasn’t meant to solicit organ donors. But when Richardson saw it, she began a process of “soul searching and prayer” to know if she should try to be the donor. She knew her blood type—O+—made her a good candidate.
So, she began the application. First, she filled out a questionnaire. When that was approved, she had bloodwork done. Next came the MRI, CT scan, EKG and more bloodwork. In addition to genetic testing (to make sure she didn’t have the same genetic markers of Destiny’s condition), doctors also needed physical imaging of her liver to make sure it was a good anatomical fit. Finally, a few months after initially seeing the Facebook post, she received word from the transplant team that she was a match.
The team asked her if she wanted to call and tell her cousin the good news, or if she wanted the doctors to call.
“I was like, ‘Um, I’m going to call,’” Richardson said with a laugh.
Just before Thanksgiving, Richardson underwent surgery to have one-fifth of her liver removed, a process she describes as “really, honestly, an easy thing to do.”
Drea and Destiny both had their own transplant teams, so there would be no conflicts of interest. If at any time Richardson decided she wanted to pull out, she could tell her team, and they would report that she had been barred from donation for medical reasons.
Richardson was aware of the potential risks. With any major surgery, there is always a small risk of severe bleeding and even death. She also knew there was a chance of hernia post-operation. Still, she reported to Colorado to have her surgery, confident things would go well.
And they did. Live liver donation is possible because a healthy liver will regenerate itself after a portion is removed. Just two weeks after surgery, her “liver values” had returned to normal. Doctors were “really surprised” at her quick recovery.
Destiny is doing well too, though her condition means that she’ll likely never be without some difficulties. She still uses a gastric tube, and she’ll always have to live with dietary restrictions. Technically, Drea and Destiny are second cousins, but Drea refers to Destiny as her “liver sister.”
Richardson is eager to share her story in hopes of spreading the word about organ donation. While the experience was a success, Richardson is ineligible for any future liver donations. As for other organs? She’s “more protective” of her kidneys—you’ve only got two, and they don’t regrow themselves. And while she emphasizes that organ donation is a “very personal decision,” she encourages others to consider it.
You can sign up or get more information at BeTheMatch.com or OrganDonor.com.