Faces of Liver Disease
Sharing your experience can provide hope and comfort to others in the liver community.
From the desk of Lauren Hughes:
It is not everyday that you meet somebody who will change your life forever.
mallory email picture
In fact, many people never even meet friends who will help mold them into a better person. I, however, have been one of the lucky ones. I can proudly say I have been changed for the better because of someone I know. I couldn't help but be changed — once you know my friend Mallory Smith, you, too, will find yourself transformed.
When I met Mallory my freshman year of high school I had no way of knowing the impact she would have on my life in just a few short years. In July of 2006, just a month before we were due to start our senior year, I received a phone call telling me that Mallory had been admitted to the local emergency room with a multitude of symptoms and ailments. Upon her admittance doctors began a battery of tests to determine the source of her nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice. This is how doctors discovered Mallory was suffering from a severe illness known as Wilson's disease. Essentially, a person with Wilson's disease retains too much copper in his or her body. As the intestines absorb copper from food, the copper builds up in the liver and severely injures the liver tissue. Eventually, this damage to the liver causes complete cirrhosis.
After the initial diagnosis, Mallory and her family were transported to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. They were greeted by a team of doctors who explained that Mallory was in urgent need of a new liver. Mallory's liver was so badly damaged that a liver transplant was her only hope. On July 13, Mallory was placed on the top of the UNOS transplant list. By the 15th, she was at the number one spot on the transplant waiting list of four southeastern states. As time progressed she became more ill. Because of her status on the organ transplant list Mallory was only allowed minimal nausea and pain medications. She was forced to simply wait it out.
Waiting. As Mallory waited it out inside the Intensive Care Unit, we waited it out on the outside. Day after day for nearly five days family, friends, coaches, and teachers waited. We hoped and prayed Mallory would live through the night. We anxiously waited for the news that today would be the day our Mallory would receive the precious gift of life. Finally, on July 17th, 2006 we received the news that today was the day. A liver had become available and Mallory would be its recipient. Again, we waited. At 4:00 PM on the 17th, Mallory was wheeled back into the ICU at Egleston.
After twenty-four days in the hospital, Mallory and her new liver "Doug," a name she chose after the Nickelodeon character whose favorite food was liver and onions, were able to return home. By the end of August, Mallory was able to return to school on a limited basis. Eventually, she triumphantly reclaimed her place on the varsity football cheerleading squad. That fall, she was even named our Kennesaw Mountain High School Homecoming Queen. Things seemed to be going great for my dear friend Mallory. In addition to her quick recovery and her seemingly easy transition back into "real life," Mallory also began to publicly speak about liver disease and the importance of organ donation. In December of 2006, everyone who knew and loved Mallory stood by and proudly watched as she served as "the face" of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's annual Christmas festival. We also proudly listened as she told her story to millions of listeners on a local radio station's yearly telethon to raise money for the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta hospitals.
Though this would seem like the perfect ending to an otherwise very scary story, sadly, Mallory's tale does not end here.
In January 2007, five months after her transplant, Mallory began to show signs of rejection. For the next six months, Mallory was in and out of the hospital undergoing hundreds of procedures to save "Doug," the liver that had saved her life. In September of 2007, after many of Mallory's friends, myself included, had moved away to start college at various universities across the southeast, Mallory received some unexpected and devastating news. She needed another liver transplant. Despite the shock, Mallory persevered. She waited. We waited. And on September 17, 2007 Mallory was once again given the gift of life. She received her second liver, "Izzie," named after her favorite character on the TV show Grey's Anatomy.
Unfortunately, her recovery proved to be incredibly more difficult the second time around. Mallory experienced problems with her kidneys and was put on dialysis. In total, she spent five grueling months in the hospital. Finally, on November 30, 2007, Mallory was discharged. Although she had to return home with a feeding tube and a Picc line, Mallory slowly began to reclaim the life she had left behind for the second time.
For such a young life, Mallory's story is definitely a long one. One filled with many bumps in the road. It has been heartbreaking to see my friend suffer for so long, but I know it is not without reason. Since Mallory's second transplant, she has been given the opportunity to speak openly about liver disease and the importance of organ donation. She serves as an inspiration and counselor to many, both young and old alike, going through similar trials in their own lives.
If it had not been for the unwavering support of the American Liver Foundation, Mallory may have never gotten the opportunity to connect with others who suffer from liver-related illnesses. ALF provided Mallory with the resources needed to connect with those who have had similar journeys. They also gave her the opportunity to educate others about liver disease. Mallory once said to me, "The best thing ALF has done for me is to allow me to be a part of campaigns that serve to educate others about liver disease. They have allowed me to both be reached out to and reach out to others in need." In 2008, Mallory also participated in the American Liver Foundation's "Liver Life Walk" and served as the keynote speaker. She has even been instrumental in fundraising for a new floor for transplant patients at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
I am proud to say that Mallory Smith is my friend. Without knowing it, she has taught me so much in such a short period time. She has not only revealed to me the importance of faith, hope, and love, but also given me the inspiration to pursue a career of my own in non-profit public relations. Her journey has been a long one, but still she continues to persevere. For that, I will always be proud of her. Her strength and tenacity in the face of extreme adversity serves as an example to me and to all who know her. All of us have been changed simply by having the opportunity to know her.
Because of the continued generosity of the American Liver Foundation and donors like you, scientific advances are constantly being made in the treatment of liver disease. Without the your help, Mallory's fight with Wilson's Disease surely would have been lost long ago. But still, she perseveres. Thank you for giving her, and all of us who love her, that hope.
--Lauren Hughes, February 2009