Texan received liver from W.Va. girl, 12
Texas lawyer Nefeterius McPherson is alive today because of a liver donated after the death of 12-year-old Taitlyn Hughes of Martinsburg, whose picture appears in the upper left. McPherson spoke Friday at Charleston Area Medical Center about the importance of organ donation.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nefeterius McPherson can never forget she's alive because Taitlyn Hughes died -- and the 39-year-old organ transplant survivor does not want to forget.
"It's one thing to say organ donations save lives," McPherson told a group of Charleston Area Medical Center staff members and specially invited guests Friday at a luncheon to stress the importance of donating organs. "It's another thing to say Taitlyn saved Nefeterius' life."
McPherson, a former athlete and fifth-generation Texan, had never been sick until November 2004, when she got excruciating abdominal pains after eating some ham.
In her first year of law school and of an analytical mind, she naturally deduced the ham had made her sick, and quit eating ham. More and more foods started making her sick and were purged from her diet.
"Sometime in January , all I was eating was chicken broth," McPherson said. "Then, the chicken broth made me sick."
Soon, McPherson had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. Clearly, something more serious was wrong.
McPherson finally got a correct diagnosis in June 2005, when she found out she had a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts.
Surgery to remove diseased portions of bile duct helped for a while, but McPherson soon found herself in the hospital more and more often. By April 2011, she was hospitalized so frequently that her doctors said, if she got sick one more time, she would need a liver transplant.
McPherson was placed on the transplant list that May. There she remained for 172 days.
A couple of times, she came close to getting a new liver, but both chances fell through.
On Nov. 6, 2011, she got a call to get ready for possible surgery. It was the same morning that Taitlyn Hughes of Martinsburg woke up with a terrible headache.
Hughes had a brain hemorrhage, and she was rushed to the hospital. Hughes had expressed her wish to be an organ donor, and McPherson was told to stand by in case Hughes died and her liver could be harvested.
Already wracked with competing emotions at the knowledge that someone might have to die for her to live, McPherson felt both hopeful for her own future and sad for the family of the potential donor.
Then, through a slip of a doctor's tongue, she discovered her donor was only a child.
"How am I supposed to be happy for my gift of life now?" McPherson said. "I didn't think, 'Today I get my transplant.' I thought, 'Oh my God, that family just lost their child! That family just lost their child!'"
Taitlyn Hughes was only 12 years old when she died. When she was 11, she told her parents she wanted to be an organ donor, and they honored her wishes. Four people received organs from her body.
McPherson couldn't wait to reach out to Taitlyn's family, and found herself poring over a Facebook page set up in her memory. But before she could contact them, Taitlyn's mother sent the first letter.
She met Taitlyn's parents three months after her surgery.
"I felt I was meeting people I had known for my entire life," she said.
"I'm grieving for this family I don't know, and I'm grieving for this child I will physically never meet in this world," she recalled. "But I have a piece of her in me."
Now, when McPherson visits West Virginia, she feels like she's coming to a second home.
Taitlyn Hughes was a huge West Virginia University football fan, and planned on going to WVU when she got out of high school. Taitlyn's parents gave McPherson her WVU T-shirt, which McPherson proudly wore to last season's University of Texas-WVU football game.
McPherson said she feels driven to keep Taitlyn Hughes' memory alive, and to inspire other people to become organ donors.
Alice Jones, lead transplant coordinator for CAMC, said the hospital recently did its 1,000th organ transplant. "We just do kidneys here," she said, "but we do them well."
Jones said CAMC does about 50 transplants a year.
There are about 500 people on the waiting list right now, and Jones said more are being added all the time.
"There are obviously more patients that are added to the list than are removed from the list each year," she said.
"Being an organ donor saves lives."
Following McPherson's talk at CAMC on Thursday, those in the room were asked to raise their hands if they had agreed to be organ donors.
Almost every single hand went up.