How transplants transform lives
For Elizabeth James, it took a team to help her win the fight of her life.
Elizabeth, who is in charge of programming for the U-M Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, first fell ill at work in 2005. She didn’t realize it was the start of a long and sometimes painful journey that culminated in a liver transplant. Scores of doctors, nurses and staff members at UMHS teamed up to offer the highest level of care and, ultimately, a happy ending.
“All these people, not just the doctors, were just so encouraging and upbeat. Even the maintenance man would tell me ‘you’re going to make it. It’s going to be just fine,’” Elizabeth said. “Every person made such a difference.”
Elizabeth’s struggles began when she was diagnosed with cryptogenic cirrhosis, a sometimes-fatal disease of the liver of which there is no known cause. Doctors immediately added her to the transplant waiting list, but her condition worsened over the next six years.
At the beginning of August 2011, Elizabeth was experiencing kidney failure. Her doctor, Pratima Sharma, MBBS, recommended that she be admitted into University Hospital. To Elizabeth, “that’s when everything started to become clear that I was in the danger zone.”
Eight days later, a donor was found for a new liver. After Survival Flight retrieved the organ, an eight-hour surgery ensued, followed by a rigorous recovery program that involved doctors, nurses and therapists.
“I look back on my journey as a six-year storm,” Elizabeth said. “I started out thinking I was totally healthy because I had never been ill before. I couldn’t believe I ended up needing a transplant. But I survived it all.”
As Elizabeth nears the five-year anniversary of her transplant, she says the surgery gave her a new lease on life. She is feeling healthy, having never been admitted back into the hospital.
“I’m just so grateful,” Elizabeth said. “Every little thing is a new adventure. My transplant was a transformative thing. It’s incredible.”
Team up to help transplant recipients
Just like Elizabeth’s experience at UMHS, everyone has a role to play in organ donation. You can help by joining the Wolverines for Life team at the Gift of Life Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program 5K Walk and Run on Saturday, July 30.
The walk promotes public awareness about the critical need for more tissue and organ donors. It will take place at historic Belle Isle State Park in Detroit and kicks off with registration beginning at 7 a.m. The walk includes events for kids and a health fair.
Join the Wolverines for Life team by visiting the event website and signing up. Halfway down the page, you can click on “join a team” and use the drop-down menu to find Wolverines for Life.
After signing up, please email Holly Eliot, program manager for Wolverines for Life, with your name, email and mailing address so she can send you and your family team t-shirts. If you have any questions, you may email Eliot or call 734-998-0095.