On May 17, 2011, Linda Wright received startling news. The long-time Cameron Park resident had been sick for weeks but she’d thought it was the flu. She had no idea there was anything wrong with her liver.
“I wasn’t getting any better, so I finally saw my doctor and he referred me to a gastroenterologist. The gastroenterologist took one look at me and said, ‘You’re yellow.’ He ordered a CAT scan but I passed out before I could get one,” said Wright.
Wright was diagnosed with fulminant liver failure and admitted to Mercy General Hospital on Friday, May 20, 2011.
The following Tuesday she was transferred to the ICU at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, and on May 27 she was given Status 1-A on the wait list for a liver transplant, meaning she had highest priority for transplantation.
Three days later, she received her new liver.
“I wasn’t fully with it at that time,” said Wright. “Even when they moved me to UCSF, I still didn’t realize I was getting a transplant. It’s still a concept I have to glaze over. I’m so grateful to be alive.”
After her surgery, Wright’s journey to recovery was still far from over. When she was released from the hospital, Wright took 41 pills per day to prevent infection and organ rejection. She was out of work for four and a half months. Today, she takes six pills per day and receives monthly blood tests to ensure that her liver and kidneys are doing well.
“We still don’t know why my liver went wacko,” said Wright. “It was a failure due to my immune system. My liver was dying faster than it could regenerate and it was taking my kidneys with it. I will be immune-suppressed by two medications for the rest of my life.”
Getting involved to give back
In the months following her release from the hospital, Wright began seeking out ways she could give back.
She joined the Sacramento Area Liver Transplant Support Group and through it, found Sierra Donor Services, a nonprofit, federally designated transplant donor network that serves Northern California and Nevada.
At Sierra Donor Services, she was shocked to learn that more than 120,000 people in the United States are waiting for organ transplants today and that, of these, more than one-third will die before a donor can be found.
Wright decided to become a Donate Life ambassador for Sierra Donor Services — and that is how she ended up helping with the Tournament of Roses Parade.
“There was an opportunity for ambassadors to go to Pasadena to help decorate the Donate Life Rose Parade float for one day. I jumped on that. I thought, ‘How cool would that be.’ I’ve never seen the parade in person,” said Wright.
On Friday morning, Dec. 20, 2013, Wright and 14 other transplant recipients boarded a bus in Sacramento and headed to Pasadena. They arrived in Pasadena that evening and began work on the float, which was titled, “Light Up the World,” early the next morning.
Wright volunteered to help with cutting flower petals, which would be used to create the color for the float.
“You get a false impression on TV. You don’t realize the size of the floats or the vibrancy of the colors,” said Wright.
Cutting flower petals was tedious work but Wright said she enjoyed it, anyway.
“It was great to be able to participate in a small way in something big. It wasn’t hard work and it gave you a chance to talk to other Donate Life ambassadors and share stories,” said Wright.
When their work on the float was completed, Wright and the other Sacramento-area transplant recipients headed home to watch their handiwork in the parade procession on TV.
Wright said her work as an ambassador is far from done. Now, she travels to events with Donate Life to share her story and talk about donations and transplant statistics.
Wright said it’s very important to specify on your driver’s license or sign up on Donate Life’s Website if you want to be a donor and especially to let your family members know.
“If you tell your family ahead of time that you want to be a donor, it makes it easier if they ever have to let you go,” she said.
Wright is now grateful for every day.
“I thank God and my family and the doctors who worked on me and especially my donor. This past Christmas, I sent my donor’s family a Christmas card of me with my grandkids. Thanks to their loved one, I got another Christmas,” said Wright.
Give the gift of life. For more information on Sierra Donor Services or to sign up to be a donor visit SierraDonor.org or donatelifecalifornia.org. You can also sign up to be a donor through the DMV when you get your drivers’ license.