The Friend Who Saved My Life: Tales of Unwavering Friendship

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A Lifeline of Love: Organ Transplant Donor

"When I was 28 years old and my kids were 3 and 1, I was dying," says Tracy Wilde, now 34. "I had developed primary sclerosing cholangitis, an incurable inflammation and obstruction of the bile ducts that led to scarring and cirrhosis of the liver. I was getting sicker by the day. After seeing several local doctors, my husband and I drove 18 hours from our home, in Weaverville, North Carolina, to the Mayo Clinic, in Minnesota, to get the best care possible.

"The news wasn't good. My only hope was a liver transplant, but the waiting list for cadaver organs was long and my time was running out. Doctors told me there was a relatively new procedure using one lobe of the liver of a living donor. The organ later grows back to normal size in both the donor and the recipient. All I could think was, who in their right mind would offer to be a donor? After all, major surgery involves risks and a lot of pain. Of course, my husband and immediate family volunteered, but no one was a match for my rare blood type, O negative.

"Then my friend Wendy Ballard said she wanted to get tested. We had met at church five years earlier and became instant pals. We were pregnant with our firstborns at the same time, attended Lamaze classes together and, after our kids arrived, spent almost every day either chatting on the phone, visiting in the afternoon, or shopping for baby gear. Even so, when she said she wanted to be my donor, I was reluctant to let her make such a sacrifice for me. I mean, she was 30 at the time with two little kids of her own!

"But I underestimated her. She wouldn't give up on the idea. And I'll never forget my shock when I found out we were a match. I was scared for Wendy but she was thrilled. In the late winter of 2002, we left our kids with our in-laws and traveled with our husbands to the Mayo Clinic. We had the surgery on March 22, 2002. I had to stay in Minnesota for three months while I recuperated, but Wendy was able to leave the hospital after just five days and fly home just two weeks later. In three weeks, her liver was back to its normal size; mine had returned to normal by my three-month checkup in July.

"Now, like all transplant recipients, I take medication to prevent rejection but otherwise I'm totally healthy. I'm still a full-time mom and Wendy is working as a radiographer at a local hospital. Not a day goes by that I don't feel grateful to her. Right after the surgery I gave her a string of pearls and told her that she'll always be my pearl. Still, there's no way I can ever truly thank her for the gift she gave me. She'll get her gift in heaven."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, June 2006.


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