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Home > Patients & Families > Liver Champions > Joey's Story

Joey's Story


Joey was a beautiful energetic 2 year old when liver failure claimed her life.

Josephine Elizabeth Heppner, Joey for short, was born October 25th 2004. She was a healthy child with barely even a runny nose in her two years. In July of 2006 the Heppner family grew by three in the same amount of minutes if you are keeping track that is 4 children under 2. Joey was the best big sister I have ever seen. She really loved the babies and would help keep their mouths clean after incessant spitting up. One day I look forward to sharing with my triplets Cooper, Maggie Rose and Christopher the many wonderful things about their big sister. The funniest being her endearing names for them "Pooper, Maggie and Piss." Amazing how she got the female's name correct.

In November of 2006 the Heppner Gang traveled from Burke, Va to Kure Beach, NC to spend Thanksgiving with Granddaddy and Grandmama. Constantly living in the 5th percentile, we managed to give Maggie Rose, a brand new premature infant, salmonella, resulting in spending the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the ER. We met a wonderful doctor who consequently has become a great friend and family pediatrician. On Wednesday of the following week, Dr. Ott called to check on Maggie who happened to be doing wonderfully. Oddly though, Joey's skin and eyes were turning a bit yellow. So I mentioned this to Dr. Ott. He said he was sure it wasn't salmonella but that he definitely wanted to have a look at her. And so began what can only be described as the absolute worst days of my life.

Joey started at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. After two days she was transferred to Chapel Hill. We went through a whole gamut of what could be wrong with her and every imaginable test was run. Joey's liver was failing but the smartest medical minds in the world could not figure out why. Eleven days after our journey began, Andreas, my husband, was being prepped for surgery. He was a perfect match for Joey and was giving her part of his liver. As he lay on the gurney with only the Lord knowing what was running through his mind, I sat with Joey where a neurologist deemed her too far gone for the transplant. On December 11th 2006, our precious Joey joined our Lord and Savior and was once again happy and healthy. After losing Joey, we decided to place her here in Wilmington at Oleander Memorial Gardens. We could not go back to Virginia and leave her here. So Andreas left his job with Booz Allen Hamilton, we sold our house in Virginia, moved in with my parents temporarily and permanently made Wilmington our home.

People often ask me how many children I have. I believe my brother said it best when he said "four, three that walk and one that soars."

Our friends and family rallied around us. My Virginia and college girlfriends wanted to create something in memory of Joey, that could also help prevent this tragedy from happening to another family. As of today, we still have no definitive answer as to why Joey developed acute liver failure.

And so was born the Joey Jog, a fundraiser supporting the American Liver Foundation. In October of '07, the first annual Joey Jog was held in Fairfax, VA where Joey was born. Joey Jog '08 was held in Chapel Hill, NC where Joey lost her battle to acute liver failure. Joey Jog '09 will be held in Wilmington and every year henceforth. We have held the Jog in these specific cities to map "Joey's Journey Home."

Butterflies have found a special place in my heart through my family's loss because of their meaning of rebirth. We have had a butterfly release at both Jogs and a family wedding. At all three releases a butterfly has found me out of crowds of more than a hundred people and clung to me for what felt like hours. I am sure to many this seems like a desperate mother clinging to anything for a sign from her baby. The difference with me is I know they have been signs from my baby.

I encourage you to visit www.joeyjog.org and watch the DVD of Joey. It is a powerful testimony to a beautiful, healthy little girl taken too young. I pray that you will be compelled to join us in supporting this worthy cause.

Page updated: September 26th, 2012