A Second Chance in Life

To understand the importance of today, I need to reflect upon the significance of another day.

February 8, 1996 was almost Jennifer Chang’s death day. Without a transplant of a healthy liver, Jennifer would die within hours as her poisoned liver continued to shut down. Finally, her family received the news they had prayed for – a match was found. Scott’s liver was flown from Valley Medical Center in Fresno to University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center.

The UCSF transplant team prepared to do an emerging surgical technique to provide Jennifer with a portion of Scott’s liver intended to sustain her life long enough to give her own damaged liver a chance to heal and regenerate.

(NOTE: This was the first time the technique, known as an "auxiliary transplant," was to be performed at UCSF with the expectation that the damaged liver will heal itself. Only one other transplant center in the United States had performed a similar procedure at this time. )

Jennifer received the left lobe of Scott's liver, and another UCSF transplant patient received the larger portion of Scott’s liver in a standard liver transplant procedure.

In the auxiliary transplant, Scott’s liver was placed alongside Jennifer's damaged liver, giving her the chance of living without the need to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life. If there were enough healthy cells remaining in her damaged liver, Jennifer’s liver would be able to regenerate and supplant Scott’s liver over a period of several months. If the damaged liver proved unable to heal, then Scott’s liver would grow and supplant the damaged liver.

"We're giving her own liver a chance to recover," Dr. Emond said. "The livers are placed side by side in competition for blood flow. The healthiest organ eventually will dominate."

After Jennifer underwent the procedure on February 8th at UCSF, Emond estimated that the ability of the damaged organ to heal won't be known for about six months. No other organ in the body has this ability to grow or reduce in size as needed.

The doctors noted that Scott’s liver in this case saved the lives of two patients and other of his organs saved the lives of three others -- a heart transplant recipient, a kidney-pancreas recipient, and a kidney recipient.

Jennifer remained in serious but stable condition in the intensive care unit at UCSF Medical Center, needing further procedures over the next few days and weeks. Sam Chang, Jennifer’s father, states that he watched the blood flow from Scott’s liver surge into Jennifer’s damaged liver, on a computer monitor after the procedure.

Jennifer’s damaged liver did regenerate and eventually dominated Scott’s liver. In a few months, she underwent another surgery to remove the portion of Scott’s liver. She was able to stop taking anti-rejection drugs and continued to live a vibrant life.

Reconciliation is the process of finding a way to make two different realities exist, or be true at the same time; to accept the reality; to redeem the future.

And that is what took place today for our family, and for Jennifer and her parents, Sam and Rita Chang. We experienced reconciliation with two different realities that are conflicting yet true at the same time – Scott is not here, and because of that, Jennifer is here. Experiencing reconciliation doesn’t diminish or heighten either reality. The Chang family feels deep sorrow that our only son died, and we share in their great joy that their only daughter lived. Life coming from death is a beautiful example of redeeming the future.

Perhaps the Psalmist’s words best reflect the meeting of our families ~

“Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Psalm 85:1

(The above account is taken, in part, from a press release from UCSF dated February 9, 1996.)

Like Meeting Old Friends for the First Time

For as long as I can remember, I choose to view the experiences of my life through a lens that illuminates the amazing grace of the God who restores; the God who will redeem the broken pieces of my life for His glory! It is this personal belief that allows me to move toward experiencing peace with the loss of our sixteen year old son, Scott.

Part of my own journey as a bereaved mother is to share about my loss, and my pursuit of peace. The story I share of Scott’s death always involves two families; neither of whom would ever forget the winter of 1996. (If you are not familiar with the story, click on the following link to read it on my blog, Redeeming the Future.)

The story of these two families is an account of profound grief and overwhelming joy. It is a story I never dreamed I would be cast in; never imagined being played out in my life.

Now almost twenty years later, God, in His providence, is changing the story. Well, not exactly changing it. He is writing a new chapter; one that only He could author as it is filled with his amazing grace and promise of restoration.

Inspired this summer by a news story about the first hand transplant ever performed on a child, I felt led again to search for the “other” family in my twenty-year-old story. Although they were an integral part of my story, I had never met them. I admit that I searched often to find them since Scott’s death. Now, inspired again by the story of donation, I pulled up electronic copies of newspaper articles from 1996 I had stored in a file on my computer. I enlisted the help of friends on social media. My searching at length over the years always ended in frustration and failure. But this time was different.

I was filled with anxiety as I thought about how best to contact this individual through social media. How do you compose a private message to ask someone if she may be the person who received your son’s liver? She was 13 years old in 1996; she would be about 33 years old now. I wrestled with the wording for a couple of hours, forming an introduction, sharing how the gift of organ donation added value to our loss, and then asking “the” question. The stress of choosing the correct words, of not pushing too hard, almost made me back out. Even after composing the message, I waited about twenty more minutes before pushing SEND.

As I was turning off my phone at bedtime for the night, I literally began to shake. There was a reply; an answer we had waited almost twenty years to receive.

Hi Bonnie and Tony, I am the Jennifer Chang you were looking for. Because of your son, I was given a second chance in life and I am eternally grateful. I would love to share my story with you.”

Making the decision to donate Scott’s organs was not an easy one for me, on several levels. It required us to agree with the determination of two neurologists that Scott was brain dead. (Brain death is hideous.) It required us to leave a son who was kept alive by machines. It required us to know that the surgeons would “harvest” (their word) parts of his strong, soccer playing, mountain biking, beautiful body, before “pulling the plug”.

We knew the importance of organ donation and its ability to save lives. We made the decision to become a donor family primarily to add value to our loss; to know that Scott’s death was not in vain in this physical world.

What a privilege to witness God’s grace at work in the past few weeks since I sent that first message on social media. Tony and I have traveled to Berkeley to have lunch with the three siblings who had been in critical condition in 1996. We heard them share about this life changing event from their family’s vantage point. We were blessed to answer their questions ~ what was his name, how did he die, how old was he, does he have siblings, and what was he like?

It became quite clear that although our families had never met, we were indeed an integral part in each other’s lives. So much so, that God’s grace continues to bring us together. Jennifer’s parents flew into San Francisco from Taiwan. We look forward to welcoming them into our home tomorrow.

A friend asked me if I was nervous about meeting them. Strangely, I am not. They have been a part of my life for almost 20 years. I feel a sense of joy as we are privileged to see God’s redemptive power over loss.

Seriously, it is like I am meeting old friends for the first time.