PATIENT STORIES | JANET

AUG 2018

A liver transplant patient gets a second chance at life

At first Janet Wannamaker thought that constantly feeling tired was just what happened when you hit your forties. But, as her exhaustion deepened over a 10-year period, she saw other signs of a serious problem.

The lower parts of her legs began to darken in color until they were almost black. Blood tests were abnormal, but doctor after doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Their prescription: exercise and lose weight.

Then, in 2014, Janet took a friend’s advice and visited an Austin liver specialist. He knew immediately: she needed a liver transplant. He recommended the Transplant Center at University Hospital in San Antonio, a partnership with UT Health San Antonio that ranks among the best in Texas for outcomes that exceed national expectations.

Janet’s name went on a waiting list for a liver that would come from a donor after he or she died.

She had another option that would shorten the wait, but she didn’t want to take it. She could accept the offer of a friend’s daughter, Sonja Reeves. Sonja wanted to donate a portion of her liver through University Hospital’s living donor liver transplantation program, the only program in South Texas that transplants liver tissue taken from a living person.

If tests showed Sonja to be a match, surgeons would remove a small part of her healthy liver and transplant it into Janet. Livers regenerate, so both Sonja and Janet could have fully functioning livers in a short period of time.

“Nobody needs to put themselves through surgery to save my life,” said Janet, in explaining why she initially said no to Sonja’s offer. Two years later, however, Janet was still waiting for a deceased donor and she was extremely sick.

“I’d already made my peace with God,” she remembers.

Still, she decided to revisit Sonja’s offer and learned the friend still wanted to donate.

Tests showed Sonja to be a good match, and within weeks the women were wheeled into surgery for a transplant procedure that would change both their lives.

Sonja—who has completely recovered —tells Janet she’s grateful she could help save someone’s life.

Janet says she’s had a chance to meet all her grandchildren and to be more active than she’s been in almost 15 years.

“I have more energy. I go camping and babysit for my three (youngest) grandkids,” she said of the little ones, ages one, three and four.

Janet is still blown away by Sonja’s sacrifice, but she’s convinced the living donor program is one of God’s miracles, and that it’s her job to tell.

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