Fresh Print Magazine met Erica Tomlinson at the 5th International Pub Night fundraiser. This amazing young woman shared an incredible story of how she decided to donate 70% of her liver to her next door neighbour. We were able to catch up with her after the event to learn more about Erica.
FPM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
ET: I’m 21 years old. A certified Baker, Cake Designer, and Wedding and Event Planner.
FPM: How did you find out about live organ donation?
ET: I found out about live liver donation because my neighbor Renee Ly, 39, got very sick. I knew about live donation previously because my aunt had a kidney transplant 20 years ago from her sister.
FPM: Why did you decide to donate your liver?
ET: I wanted to do something big in my life and I knew this was a perfect opportunity. Not only would I be able to save Renee’s life, but I saved her family. She has two boys and a husband.
FPM: What was involved in the donation screening process?
ET: The testing process took six weeks and within those six weeks, I had many tests to see if I could be a donor: over 65 tubes of blood in bloodwork, x-ray, CT Scan, psychological evaluation, ultrasound, five minutes of an MRI, multi-doctor consults, FibroScan® which examines the stiffness of the liver, and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), which examines the pancreatic and bile ducts.
FPM: We heard you have burning wings. Is this true?
ET: I had to have an MRI done to see if the anatomy of my liver was compatible. When I was 18 I got a tattoo of two angel wings and my grandfather and god father’s names in memory of them. I didn’t know at the time that they used red ink (which was a metallic ink) to make the black stand out more. The tattoo is located on my upper back/shoulder blades. Within five minutes of the test my back started to feel very hot. They stopped the test to find out I had a first degree burn! Toronto General and St. Michael’s Hospital now refers to me as “The girl with the burning tattoo.”
FPM: Tell us the story of how you told your neighbour you were going to be her liver donor.
ET: Now picture this, I am standing at Renee’s counter as she is washing the dishes. I tell her that I want the name and number of the person I need to contact in order to be tested to be her donor. She starts crying and she says to me, “No way. I can’t let you do that! You are too young. You are not doing this.” A little argument continues. “Well, either you are giving me the information or I will get it myself. I want to give you a piece of ‘awesomeness’.” Guess who won? My mind was made up and there was no turning back. Literally within an hour after that, my medical history form of 400 questions was answered and my blood type confirmed and faxed to the Toronto General Hospital Transplant Clinic. The very next day the process began.
FPM: How was the surgery?
ET: After careful consideration, lots of tests and staff constantly confirming with me that I wanted to do this, I met the requirements to be a donor. My mom and I were confident that I was in great hands and that everything was being done to ensure my safety and prepare me for the surgery. On November 20, 2013, I was a live liver donor. My surgery took about eight hours while Renee’s took about ten. All went well on that day. Although I was always aware that there could be potential risks of the surgery including the possibility of a second surgery for bleeding or infection, I never thought twice about my decision. I did go in for a second surgery to clean up some blood. Then two days after I received a blood transfusion. Thank you blood donors!
FPM: Do you have a scar? How big is it? Can you see it if you wear a bikini?
ET: I have a beautiful scar, shaped as a hockey stick on my stomach. You can see it when I wear a bikini, and I am proud of it! I love showing it off!
FPM: How was your recovery process?
ET: Recovery took three months before I was allowed to lift over three pounds or return to my “normal” life. It wasn’t as painful as everyone told me it would be. It’s just different knowing 70% of your liver was missing and 30% was trying to grow. In the first two weeks of recovery my liver grew 90%. I found myself very tired and had a big loss of appetite.
FPM: Have you had any problems since donating your liver?
ET: Nope, no problem so far! I’m doing great, my liver is grown to 100% and feeling awesome!
FPM: Would you do it again?
ET: I would do it again in a heartbeat!!!
FPM: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
ET: Please register as an organ donor at: www.beadonor.ca/erica-tomlinson
You can also follow our story on facebook at: www.facebook.com/thelivernextdoor