Stories of Hope: Toni Wisehart

Toni Wisehart_SquareMy organ donation journey began in October of 2003. My deteriorating health prompted me to go to the doctor. Six months later, I was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis or PSC, a rare autoimmune disease that slowly damages the bile ducts in the liver. My doctor broke the news to me I had just 12-18 months to live. However, I could see a light at the end of the tunnel—I could receive a new liver and my life would be saved.

At the time of this diagnosis, I was a full-time science teacher in San Diego teaching anatomy-physiology and biology. Not feeling well, it was so difficult to keep up with the pace of 180 students a day. Fortunately, I had two student teachers, allowing me a great deal of sitting time, and I was still able to participate.

By the end of 2004, my poor health made it difficult to do much. My students would carry my materials up to my classroom and at the end of the day escort me back to my car. I slept during lunch to make it through the afternoon. When school was over every day, I would say to the kids, “If I am not here tomorrow, I am either dead or at UCLA getting a liver transplant!”

As luck would have it, on January 17, 2005, UCLA called and said, “Come on up, we have a new liver for you.” As you can guess, the tears flowed. I made it up to Los Angeles as quickly as I could. My surgery started at 9:30 p.m. that same day and ended at 6:30 a.m. the next morning.

I had received the gift of life! It is difficult to even explain the difference I felt immediately after the surgery. When I woke up, the itching and jaundice I had before the surgery were gone. I was able to get up and walk around. Even though this was a major surgery to recover from, I still felt better. It has been 11 and a half years since this amazing day in which I received a second chance at life for which I am extremely grateful. Transplant recipients sometimes meet their donor’s family, but I have not had the opportunity to do this. The only thing I know about my donor is he was a 29-year-old Hispanic man.

It is such an amazing experience to receive an organ transplant. When you’re waiting, you want to get your life back to the way it was before you were sick. I returned to teaching the following fall semester, and it was overwhelming to be back doing what I loved. I could walk up to my classroom and carry all my materials again. Life is good. I owe my life to my donor, his family, and the organ donation system in Los Angeles.

I retired from teaching in 2008, and now I give back as a volunteer, visiting local high schools, sharing my story about my transplant, and giving presentations on the importance of organ donation.

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