By Allison Perry
The notorious “freshman 15” is usually little more than a nuisance for new college coeds across the country. But when Georgetown College freshman Lynsey Farrar gained 15 pounds in a single week, she knew something just wasn’t right.
When the Sparta, Ky., native came home for a weekend visit in late February, Lynsey’s mother Sherra said her daughter complained of feeling bloated and fatigued. Her condition worsened over the next few days as Lynsey developed other troubling symptoms, including nausea and nosebleeds. When her eyes turned yellow – initial stages of jaundice – Sherra knew right away that Lynsey’s problem was serious.
“I thought, oh my God, it’s her liver,” Sherra said. “I panicked. I knew she was really sick.”
Lynsey’s local doctors ordered blood work, which confirmed Sherra’s fears. The doctor then referred Lynsey to the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital Emergency Department, and she was admitted into the hospital on March 3 – roughly a week after her symptoms began. Lynsey’s blood work showed that she had Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder that causes copper to build up in body tissue, particularly the brain and the liver.
Wilson’s disease can generally be managed through medication, but Lynsey’s condition didn’t respond to treatments. On Thursday evening, March 6, the Farrars spoke to UK transplant surgeon Dr. Erin Maynard, who told the family that a liver transplant might be a possibility in the future – though based on her condition at the time, Lynsey wasn’t yet sick enough to be placed on the transplant waiting list.
By Friday morning, all that had changed – the teen’s condition worsened considerably overnight and her kidneys began shutting down. Maynard’s team took action to stabilize her and listed Lynsey at a status 1A – meaning that she had moved to the top of the regional liver transplant list due to the severity of her condition.
“Words cannot describe how I felt – like the wind had been knocked out of me,” Sherra said. “After they put her on the ventilator, I was thinking that I would be planning a funeral because I knew it could take time to find a matching donor.”
But in just half a day, a liver match was found and surgery was underway early Saturday morning. UK performs roughly 40 liver transplants each year, according to Maynard, and it takes a team of experts from various specialties across UK HealthCare working together to provide all the necessary care pre-transplant through recovery. In Lynsey’s case, the team included transplant hepatology, nephrology, anesthesia, pulmonary critical care, medical hospitalist, and pathology.
“I always tell patients that it takes a village to get someone through transplant,” Maynard said. “In Lynsey’s case, this was particularly true. It’s not just one person that saved her, but truly a team effort.”
During the surgery, more than 50 friends and family members filled the waiting room at UK Chandler Hospital, anxious to receive any news on Lynsey’s condition. Back home in northern Kentucky, the local DMV became overwhelmed the next Monday when dozens of people showed up to sign up for Donate Life’s organ donor registry, inspired by Lynsey’s case.
Lynsey, who remembers little of her days prior to transplant, took the new development in stride. “I woke up after the surgery and said, ‘Did I get a transplant?’” she said.
These days, Lynsey’s good health is a far cry from that first week of March. Due to her youth, previously excellent health record, and personal determination, her recovery has been quick and relatively painless. She played golf less than two months post-surgery, and has spent much of her summer working at a local pharmacy and staying active through golf, jumping on her trampoline, and trying her hand at other new endeavors.
“She called and asked us if she could go zip lining,” Maynard said. “We said yes! We don’t transplant you so you can never leave your house – we transplant you so you can go out and live your life.”
“I feel normal,” Lynsey said. “I get tired easily, but that’s to be expected.”
Lynsey, who hopes to pursue a career in pharmacy, just embarked on her second year at Georgetown College. She moved into her dorm over the weekend and heads back to classes for the first time today.
Though she had to take a leave of absence for the last few months of the spring semester, the future pharmacist kept up with much of her schoolwork, teaching herself English, chemistry, and statistics at home – and earning excellent grades in all three, including a 98 percent average in chemistry.
Watching her oldest daughter venture back into the fold triggers mixed emotions for her mother, who is incredibly grateful to the donor who gave her daughter a second chance at a bright future.
“I’m really proud of her,” Sherra said. “I’m nervous for her, but incredibly proud.”