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Stories of hope

Cameron: saving my mother’s life

Cameron Dixon

My name is Cameron. I am a 21-year-old senior on the women’s soccer team at Portland State University. I am a living organ donor. Last summer, I donated more than half of my liver to save my mother’s life.

My mother has an inherited genetic disease called PKD/PLD, or polycystic liver & kidney disease. This disease has impacted everyone on the maternal side of our family, and it is devastating. She has battled this disease for several decades, but despite her extraordinary health, diet, and fitness regimen, she went into liver failure last spring. Her doctors placed her on the national transplant waiting list, but the list is very long. Her chance of surviving until a match became available was not promising.

Last spring, I traveled to the transplant center in San Antonio and went through extensive testing, and in mid-summer, I found out that I was a match to be her living liver donor. I guess my biology class needs a new testing protocol! My mom had a huge amount of guilt and struggled with the idea of me being her donor because I would most likely miss playing my senior year of soccer. My mom was a single parent while my brother and I were growing up, and our family poured our resources and energy into my dreams of playing collegiate soccer. I have had this dream since I was 4 years old. Being a living organ donor could turn this dream upside down, which gutted my mom. But I told her it was a no-brainer and I was going to be her donor. Her life was far more important than soccer, and soccer would still be there on the other side of the surgery, one way or another.

Our lives were filled with pre-ops and tests. It was really exciting but terrifying at the same time. One bump in the road was that I needed a liver biopsy because I had elevated liver enzymes, but it turned out that was from my summer fitness and weight packet. My transplant surgeons, liver doctors, and physical therapists had never had a collegiate athlete do a surgery like this before, so they couldn’t give me a timeline for recovery, or even know if I would be able to return to play at all. Even though so much was up in the air, I knew, without a doubt, that this was what I wanted to do for my mom.

There was never a time in the process when I thought about backing out or changing my mind. But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t scared out of my mind. But no matter how scared I was, I knew my mom was even more scared. Her 21-year-old baby was going to be giving her a part of herself and going through major surgery to save her life. Because of this, I had to put on a strong face to be there for her.

The surgery itself took nine and a half hours, and they removed about 70% of my liver and my entire gallbladder. My mom was in surgery for about 12 hours. Thankfully, the surgeries went smoothly for both of us. I was in the ICU for the first night with a central line in my neck, IVs in my hands, a mid-line in my wrist, an epidural in my back, two drains in my abdomen, and a catheter. After I got most of that taken out, I was moved to the ACU (a step-down unit), where I stayed for five more days with an arterial line, IVs, and drains. I was sent home with one drain, which drove me nuts, but again, totally worth it. My mom was back and forth in the ICU and ACU for about two weeks due to a few pretty serious complications, then she was able to go home to start her long road to recovery.

After surgery, I had one post-OP appointment 10 days later, where they took out the final drain and released me from their care. I was allowed to go back to school, and my care was turned over to my team doctors and trainers. Since then, I have worked on scar treatment, getting back to fitness, and getting cleared for full-contact soccer – I am being allowed to take a 5th year! This season I will redshirt because of the surgery and recovery, so I have another year of soccer ahead of me to look forward to! I believe I am now back to where I was a year ago, just with a different liver and no gallbladder. My mom is alive and thriving.

I am an Applied Health and Fitness major, and my goal is to become a personal trainer. Exercise, nutrition, and health have always been my passion and a central part of my life. Helping people, especially the people I love, is the thing that makes me happiest. My journey as a living organ donor has shown me my strength and courage, my mother’s strength and courage, and the kindness and dedication of the transplant team that made her continued life possible. Now I would like to give back by sharing my story, and showing the world that we, especially as athletes, can change the world.

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