In 2006 I was a recent college graduate excited to begin my career as a dental hygienist in my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. I had just moved out of my parents' house and into my first apartment, bought my first car and had even gone on a blind date and started seeing an amazing guy who seemed to be "the one". Life was great and I was healthy, happy and carefree with the world at my fingertips. I was anxious to see what God had in store for the next chapter of my journey but I never could have imagined what it turned out to be.
Though I was proud to have been raised in the church by wonderful, loving Christian parents, I always felt as though my testimony was boring. I had never known trials, tests or hard times and I certainly didn't have a profound life changing experience to share. I was practically born on a church pew and had lived in a safe, protected bubble for 24 years. In my mind, that was no testimony.
I should have been careful what I wished for because over the course of the next few months I suddenly became extremely ill and found myself facing the battle of a lifetime with a very aggressive auto-immune disease known as Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC). PSC attacks the liver and there is no known cure other than a liver transplant. After a life of picture perfect health, I was now suffering the effects of a rapidly failing liver and was suddenly thrust into a life of sickness that I had never known or even imagined. If you've ever had a chronic illness, then you know how difficult it is to carry out day to day activities and routines that most people take for granted. Even the smallest tasks like getting out of bed seemed monumental, not to mention the mental and emotional aspect of living with a fatal disease. Your mind takes you places that you don't want to go and you have to make decisions that you don't want to make. With an uncertain future on the horizon, I began to see things through a different lens. My perspective changed and suddenly the little things in life weren't so little anymore. I found myself truly savoring every single blessing God had given me, which by this point included a supportive husband and a precious, loving three-year-old daughter, both of whom I longed to grow old with.
I suffered with the effects of my disease for eight years before finally being deemed sick enough to have my name placed on the transplant list at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Through my time of waiting the Lord taught me great lessons in patience as well as in thanksgiving. Losing your health and facing death is one of the most humbling and helpless experiences in life. My faith was tested, refined and made new as I patiently awaited my life saving gift. My marriage vows were put to the ultimate test as that guy I met on a blind date eight years’ prior showed me exactly what it meant to lovingly serve your spouse in sickness and in health. Friends, family and strangers alike showed me what it meant to be the hands and feet of Jesus as they supported us, prayed for us and walked alongside us during some very dark and scary days. In every way possible, God made Himself known through this journey to healing.
On September 16th, 2014 after seven months of waiting, I finally received the call I had so earnestly prayed for... A perfect, healthy liver was available and ready for me. My miracle had finally come and a new life of health awaited. My surgery was a success and though my recovery even to this day has included some unexpected turns, in general I am finally healed and healthy and enjoying the benefits of a life free of sickness and pain.... A life that I certainly took for granted prior to my diagnosis.
I thank God every day for the precious gift of life I was given. Though I was most undeserving, He granted me a second chance and I am eternally grateful for that. Every single day that I get to wake up and continue my life as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend.... I am thankful. I am thankful for the good days AND the bad days. I am thankful for every battle over brushing tiny teeth and combing tangled hair and every exhausting minute of chauffeuring a kid from school to gymnastics to art class to cheerleading and church. I am thankful for chores and grocery shopping and preparing meals for my picky family--All things I used to resent and dread are now sweet simple reminders of this amazing second chance at life I've been given! Each day is truly a gift!
As I was laying in my hospital room recovering after my transplant I suddenly had a revelation. I needed to give a name to my new liver! I thought about it long and hard before settling on the name "Grace". As we all know, grace is something that cannot be earned or deserved but rather is freely given by God Himself and that's exactly what He did for me when he spared my life through the act of organ donation. "Grace" is now referred to by name by everyone who knows my story, including my doctors!
"My GRACE is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9
Though God orchestrated all the details, this miracle was only made possible by the selfless decision of my greatest hero whom I will never know--My organ donor. Through my joy and thankfulness, I have also struggled greatly with feelings of guilt and sadness. I am alive today only because someone else is not and that's a tough thing to accept. Every single day when I see the large scar across my belly I am reminded that someone else is living on inside of me. Though I don't know their name, age or even their gender, I am connected to them in a way that I cannot explain. This person gave me the ultimate gift when they agreed to be an organ donor. They gave me the gift of LIFE.
In looking back, I can say with complete honesty that I am thankful for every single battle, every pain and every tear that I endured on this journey. My trials have changed my life in indescribable ways, strengthened my faith beyond belief and given me a testimony I never could have dreamed of! To God be the glory!
**Every 10 minutes another name is added to the national transplant waiting list. On average, 22 people die each day waiting for a lifesaving transplant. One organ donor can save up to eight lives. April is National Donate Life Month. Please prayerfully consider signing the donor registry TODAY. Your decision today could determine someone else's tomorrow.**
Visit www.RegisterMe.org to sign up and save lives.
Ashleigh-Anne has been married to Matthew (her blind date!) for 10 years now and together they are raising their miracle baby, Kyndall, who is already seven years old. She channels her passion for organ donation by volunteering as an ambassador with Donate Life, often sharing her story at various speaking engagements. She is a former dental hygienist who is now living her true dream of being a homemaker in Dallas, Texas. She loves Jesus, sunsets, monograms, Coke Icees, the beach, sleeping late and carbohydrates.
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