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J.K. Bovi's Liver Transplant Journey

Continuing our Times Like These series, J.K. Bovi, author of Dead Man's Fingers, Heel and Souls, and Zombie's Y'all, details her long journey with liver disease and the transplant that saved her life.

I have always believed that our lives are journeys, and our directions are determined by the choices we make. Of course, there are times when we step away from our chosen path and find ourselves someplace totally unexpected. Perhaps it’s divine intervention or maybe accidental, but all I know is that when a person is faced with one of these detours, they must regard it as a challenge and an opportunity to learn and grow from the experience.

And so it was that my life’s journey had taken me on an unexpected twist, and in October of 2019 I was trying to select items to place in my “to-go” bag. I had been on many trips before, but the journey I was preparing for was not one I wanted to go on. I was packing a “to-go” bag to be ready to go to the Mayo Clinic for a liver transplant. It wasn’t a path I had chosen, but one that had been thrust upon me.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease known as Autoimmune Hepatitis. My immune system thought my liver was a foreign object and had been attacking it for many years. I was in stage 4 Cirrhosis. With a good medical team and medications, I was able to control my disease for 5 years, but in the summer of 2019, it was decided that I should be evaluated for a liver transplant.

There are a series of tests in preparation for a transplant. A person needs to be healthy enough to survive, have a good support network, be financially stable, and be mentally strong. A life is taken so that another can live. It’s a precious gift and should be regarded with great respect.

After my evaluation, I had a MELD score of 9. MELD is the Model of End Stage Liver Disease with 39 being the high point. I was beginning to feel the effects of a toxic liver. My cognitive skills were slipping, adding numbers, remembering sequences was difficult, and I was constantly fatigued. I was getting weekly bloodwork, and one day my tests were so bad I went to the Emergency room and asked them to send my results to the Mayo Clinic. My MELD score was 38, and I was suddenly very critical. If I had waited any longer, I probably would’ve died, but instead I got a call telling me they found a donor match, and I was rushed to the Mayo Clinic.

My husband grabbed my “to-go” bag and away I went. I wasn’t frightened or apprehensive. There was a calmness to me. I “gave it up to God,” and I had no doubt that everything would be fine.

I was ushered into the huge operating room, and I almost burst into tears as I was overcome with the magnitude of what was about to happen. I thanked my liver donor and my donor’s family. I was given a chance to live.

When I woke up from my operation, I immediately felt wonderful. I had been so close to dying for so long that death had become my friend. My renewed energy was amazing. I kept saying thank you over and over. I cried when I looked at my scar because the reality of the gift of life granted to me by a complete stranger was overwhelming. Every day I trace my scar with my fingers and give thanks to my donor and donor family. Each day is indeed a precious gift.

The day after my transplant I was walking the hallway. I was released in four days and had to stay near the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. We rented a condo on the beach, and I spent the next month walking on the beach collecting shark’s teeth and enjoying my new life. I was indeed born again, and everything I saw and did had new meaning. I am grateful beyond words.

Now I feel a sense of synchronicity with the universal order of things. Events and people came into my life at the precise moment I needed them. It was like a well orchestrated plan. I believe with all my heart that my organ donor chose me to receive the gift of life. I am forever thankful.

I don’t feel an obligation to do great things with my life, but I do feel the desire to pay my gift forward by giving to others with the same unselfish kindness that was given to me.

Always remember, we’re all on a journey, and sometimes you need to pack a “to-go” bag for the next great adventure. Go boldly and have faith.

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