Eight years ago, Amanda Missildine should have been winding up her senior year with prom, graduation and all the festivities that come with finishing high school. Instead, she became gravely ill from a rare genetic disease. A liver transplant saved her life. Now, as a nurse at Maricopa Medical Center, she cares for patients and works to spread awareness about the gift of organ and tissue donation.
You coped with Crohn’s disease, a chronic disorder of the gastrointestinal system, for much of your life. But when you were 18, your health took a nosedive.
For about six months I was growing weaker, having muscle aches and my skin was acting up. I just wasn’t myself. I was seeing tons of specialists and I was going three times a week to the lab. They knew my name and where I wanted to go to college, because I was seeing them so many times.
The tipping point came in April 2005, just as you were about to finish the school year.
I was having some trouble breathing. I had some fluid in my lungs. [The doctor] sent me home, saying I probably didn’t have bronchitis but should come back in two days if I didn’t have any improvements. Two days later, I woke up [and noticed] brown urine. That was pretty scary as an 18-year-old. I went into the hospital and they diagnosed me with liver failure.
Doctors diagnosed end-stage liver failure. You were placed on a transplant list and moved to another hospital, but you were too sick to know what was happening.
During the time I was actually on the list I was not awake. But this is what my family and friends were enduring. They were waiting. I actually was only on the list for seven days. Which is extremely short—most people wait years.
What do you understand about where you were placed within the list of those waiting for a liver?
It is based on need, as far as getting a transplant. And I was that needy. I needed a liver transplant to live.
Stories about transplant successes don’t always mention what patients endure while they are waiting. You have no memory of this time, but what were you told later?
Some of the nurses told my parents, “She’s at death’s doorstep.” All of my organs were [failing], my brain was not functioning properly, my heart, my lungs, my kidneys, my pancreas. I was being kept alive by technology, for sure. That was all that was keeping me alive.
You were placed in a medical coma. Your body temperature was lowered to preserve cell function.
They actually froze me in time. They brought my body temperature down to 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Before I got my transplant, they weren’t even sure if I was going to wake up.
They thought I might have severe brain damage.
But an organ was located and ultimately, the transplant was successful. What was recovery like?
I actually lost all of my muscle mass. I had to learn to sit up, eat, do everything that we take for granted. People had to do everything for me when I first woke up. I just felt so unstable.
Miraculously, you were well enough by the end of the summer to begin college at Arizona State University. You switched your major from English to nursing, inspired by the care you had been given, and you became an RN. What comes to mind today when you think of the family that made the decision to donate?
I don’t even know how to describe it. To be so thankful to someone…I would love to thank that family. But, for whatever reason, they have chosen to remain anonymous. Privacy is very important when it comes to organ donation. All I can do is pray for them. I pray for the person, for their soul in heaven. I carry this person with me always.