Monroe County’s Amelia Brown is a testament to what sheer will, determination and the miracle of organ donation can accomplish. This doctoral student at the University of Kentucky wasn’t about to let illness stand in the way of her dreams.
“All through high school I knew something wasn’t right but I didn’t want to worry my parents. All I wanted to be was a normal teenager, graduate high school and attend the University of Kentucky. I guess you could say I was a good actress”, she said with a smile.
Despite having what she learned later to be the symptoms of liver disease Amelia did graduate from high school and was even the class speaker.
“I remember being at graduation and thinking that it was a miracle that I was alive.” Yet through it all she still maintained her silence about her symptoms.
It wasn’t until the week before she left for the University of Kentucky that she could no longer deny to herself or to her family that something was wrong.
“I started having terrible stomach pain and then I woke up one morning and I couldn’t walk and my skin was yellow.”
Amelia’s family rushed her to the doctor were she was misdiagnosed with everything from gall stones to Leukemia.
“I was 19 years old, I exercised, and I never drank. Oddly enough I was pretty healthy up until then so they didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
It wasn’t until they did a biopsy of her liver that they found out that she had cirrhosis.
“I just remember being so embarrassed. How can I have cirrhosis? I never drank! Then after the initial shock all I was concerned about was whether or not I could go to college.”
Amelia’s doctors didn’t have much faith that she would be able to handle it considering how sick she was but nothing was about to stop this Kentucky girl. Amelia’s parents helped their daughter move into her dorm room two days after her biopsy and she successfully completed her first semester.
“It wasn’t until I came home for Christmas break that the doctors told me my disease had progressed and I would have to go on the transplant waiting list. I thought it would be a 6 month wait. I didn’t have a clue. The hardest part of this whole process isn’t the recovery, it’s the waiting.”
In the meantime, Amelia went back to school and took a full course load including summers because she was afraid she wouldn’t live to see graduation. However, she did graduate and she even went on to win Home Coming Queen at UK.
“I was involved in everything. I even promoted the UK/U of L Challenge to promote organ and tissue donation on both campuses.”
Then after 4 ½ years on the waiting list Amelia received that life saving phone call that a donor liver had become available.
“I was really lucky to still be alive at this point. The problem with waiting for an organ is that so many other organs are affected and so many things can go wrong.” Luckily for Amelia her transplant came just in time.
“The real heroes here are the donor families. A lot of transplant recipients have a hard time knowing that someone had to pass away in order to give you life. I look at it this way, there could have been two tragedies and my donor family turned their tragedy into a blessing. I’m forever grateful.”
The organ procurement organization forwarded the letter Amelia wrote to her donor family not long after her transplant. She wanted them to know how thankful she was for a second chance at life.
“It took a while but I heard back from my donor’s mother. She told me all about her son and said he was a helpful person and loved people and if there was a way for him to help others he would do it.
Amelia’s donor’s mother keeps a picture of Amelia and her son next to each other on her mantle.
“Because of my donor and his family’s generosity I’ll finally be able to live my dream and someday work at a university in student affairs.”