By Sharon Mager
SEAFORD, De., — Valerie Cox, a member of Grace Seaford Church, Delaware, gave an early Christmas present more valuable than any earthly gift the recipient could have imagined — Cox donated 60 percent of her liver.
A surgical nurse, Cox saw a post on Facebook about a retired co-worker’s need for a donor. Both women had worked at a surgical center but in different parts of the building. They knew each other, but not well.
Linda Emery was diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. She had been hospitalized multiple times and was referred to Jefferson hospital to be considered for a possible transplant, but since she was over 65, they wouldn’t use a living donor. Emery would have to be put on a donor list for cadaver livers and, she had a low “MELD” score, meaning she was low on the list.
“My chances of getting a cadaver liver were slim to none,” Emery said.
She began doing research and discovered that The Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, permitted living donors. Emery qualified and started an extensive search for a donor through word of mouth, advertisements, social media and magnetic signs for her car
Valerie Cox was the first to respond. At first, seeing the post, it was just an inquiry — something she lightly considered.
“I saw that she needed a transplant from someone with 0 positive blood,” Cox said, so she thought she might as well get tested. If she weren’t a match, well, that would decide the issue right away. But she was a match.
Cox admits that she had to do some serious thinking. She and her husband, Bryan, consulted with their Larry Davis, pastor of Grace Seaford Church, who encouraged them to pray together, out loud, seeking an answer.
As they prayed, Cox said the pending decision was on her mind all the time. She felt compelled. “If God wasn’t stopping me, there was no reason not to do it.” There was a need, and she could help.
“I’m a nurse, I understood the risk, we work with anesthesia every day,” she said. She also knew that it’s one of the biggest operations doctors perform at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Transplant surgeries are the most involved surgeries,” Cox explained.
Knowing the possibilities, especially as the mother of seven and five-year-old boys, and with her husband’s full support, as well as her church and that of her manager, Cox decided to take the next steps.
“I felt this is what God wanted me to do.” Cox said people asked her, “why would you risk your life? You have little kids.”
“I told them, ‘how could I not? I have an opportunity to help her,’” she said.
Part of her decision process involved thinking of her mom, who is close to Emery’s age. What if she needed a liver donation? Cox wouldn’t be able to help because they’re not the same blood type. “I would hope someone would do it for my mom.”
She also thought of her boys and wanted to leave them a good example of giving to others. God gave his life for us. What better way to model the love of Jesus?
Cox continued the process to determine her qualifications with MRI’s, CAT scans, EKG’s, and giving 22 vials of blood for testing.
Linda too was praying. She shares that she and her husband were at the home of a couple from her church, Laurel Nazarene, and one of the friends, Fred, said he felt led to anoint her with oil and pray.
“Within a half hour, I got the message from Valerie. She had been approved for the surgery. I was in tears,” Emery said.
Cox’s liver was a perfect match.
The surgery took place on Nov. 6, and both women spent a lengthy amount of time in the operating room and they are still recovering.
Their families, churches and the communities supported them. Grace Church, Seaford, donated funds and brought dinners for Cox and her family. Davis said the community also raised thousands of dollars.
Laurel Nazarene also helped, as well as Emery’s sister’s church, First Lutheran Church of Gray Manor, Md. The churches supported both women. They even took up a collection for Cox to help pay her transportation costs and the costs of her lost income. Emery also helped with Cox’s expenses. Though Emery’s insurance covered the medical expenses, Cox still had the travel expenses and the loss of eight weeks of a nurse’s wage.
Cox said she and her family were overwhelmed with the gracious outpouring.
One member of Emery’s church also provided her assistance with transportation for Emery, taking her to Johns Hopkins from Delaware at times.
“The greatest help was prayer, support, and encouragement,” Emery said. She said her husband, Rick, stayed at the hospital with her and then has continued helping—cleaning cooking, shopping and caring or her.
Emery said she is so grateful to Cox. “I tell her, ‘thank you,’ yet I know it’s not enough. I hope she knows how grateful I am. “
Interestingly, Cox said her liver is almost regenerated. Emery’s may take a little longer.
By giving Emery a portion of her liver, both women will have fully functioning whole livers because, as both Cox and Emery stressed — the liver is the only organ that regenerates.