High School Athlete Able to Compete Again, Live Fully, Thanks to Organ Donation

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Instead of reveling in the anticipation of life after high school, Lauren Scoffield Warner found out she needed a liver transplant at age 18. After a childhood of competitive soccer, volleyball, and being able to run miles at a time, the lethargy and fatigue she began experiencing at 17 was uncharacteristic. And what she initially attributed to graduation stress turned out to be much more. 

Lauren discovered she had been living with a degenerative liver condition for years and was in end-stage cirrhosis. What had been previously misdiagnosed as mononucleosis was found to be Wilson’s disease: an extremely rare genetic disorder. The United States has fewer than 20,000 cases a year of the illness characterized by a buildup of copper in vital organs. Although the disease can cause damage as early as age six, it typically doesn’t present clinically until the teenage years or early 20s, which is when Lauren’s health began to deteriorate significantly. 

And even though she couldn’t run or play soccer anymore, Lauren valued her education, and her determination brought her to Utah, where she could be close to family and attend school at Utah Valley University.

Lauren was on the transplant list for nearly nine years, throughout her 20s, before she received a liver. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are currently 13,935 people on the transplant list waiting for livers. Due to Lauren’s blood type, B positive, she was more compatible with donors but was in no shape to receive any one of the three livers that had become available while she was waiting — she was too unstable. Not a moment too soon, liver number four would be her saving grace. 

After a week in the intensive care unit, Lauren underwent her liver transplant surgery at University of Utah Health which took about six hours and was performed by Robin Kim, MD. The donor liver came from Oakland, California, less than 90 miles from Lauren’s hometown of Sacramento. 

Today, Lauren says she is stronger than ever. 

"I am incredibly grateful for this second chance at life. I am able to do everything I want, and it's all because someone chose to become an organ donor,” she said. 

When it comes to organ donation, Lauren wants to encourage an open dialogue. 

“My mission in life now is to make a difference in this world, raise awareness for organ donation, and be kind to everyone I meet,” she said.

Pre-transplant discussions and fellow patients recommendations are what sparked Lauren’s interest in competing in the 2018 Donate Life Transplant Games, which will be held in Salt Lake City from August 2-7.

After running her first half marathon, Lauren is ready to rock the games. She will be competing in the 5K, basketball and golf. Doors that she thought were permanently closed for her have opened back up. 

The Transplant Games give donors and recipients alike a chance to test their strengths in a variety of  competitive sporting events. However, for Lauren, the games offer up a new perspective of organ donation to the outside world and the opportunity to share, in a very public way, what the gift of life means to organ recipients and their families.

“Through events like the Transplant Games, people get to see firsthand how life has become for people who were so sick for so long,” she said. 

Thanks to the sister of Lauren’s donor, who may even come out to cheer her on, Lauren has a photo of her donor that she keeps on her desk as a reminder that every single day is a precious gift. 

 

The Transplant Games are being held in Salt Lake City August 2-7th. Click here if you are interested in volunteering at this year's games!

 

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