McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

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November 11, 2013

Keeping her faith: Organ recipient realizes its importance

ENID, Okla. — No one wants to talk about death.

Shari England believes that is one reason people aren’t making organ donations, and as an organ recipient, she realizes how important it is.

England, of Medford, received a new liver in August 2001. She was suffering from auto-immune hepatitis, a disease in which her natural immune system was overactive and attacked any abnormality full force. The result destroyed her liver.

By the time she received the liver transplant, she already had lost her thyroid and gall bladder. England said her struggle with the liver disease also was a lesson in faith and how God gives strength.

“My immune system couldn’t tell the difference between friend and foe,” England said.

Her problems started about 1996. England was married and had three children. She was a working mom and active in school and her church. She was constantly tired but decided it merely was the process of getting older. During a routine physical that year, her laboratory work showed significant problems. Through a process of elimination, doctors found the issue.

“They took a biopsy of my liver and found it already advanced to near cirrhosis. I didn’t smoke or drink — and I’ve never used drugs — but testing finally found it,” England said.

Doctors determined in 1997 she would need a transplant. From that time until 1999, she was maintained on chemicals and steroids, she said. She was listed on the transplant list in December 1999.

England said she still was able to function but tired easily. She had to watch her food intake but began to feel ill beginning in January 2001. Her skin turned yellow and she became sicker.

“When the doctors told me I would probably get a transplant in October, I knew I wouldn’t make it,” she said. “A week later I jumped in front, but I knew I didn’t have too much time.”

England credits her faith in God for carrying her through the ordeal. As a person of faith, she believed God would prepare her for everything. Her children were teenagers and her family all stayed together, she said. She also is from a small community, which rallied around her.

England leaned on her faith and her family in the days leading up to her surgery and said she was amazingly calm as it approached.

“I remember being wheeled into the operating room, after I had said goodbye to my family. I believed I would either wake up in recovery or in glory,” England said.

Following the seven-hour surgery, she woke up in the recovery room.

She was in intensive care for two days, but said recovery was easy. When the tubes and wires were removed from her body, she said she felt “whole.”

“I was clear-headed, I had clarity,” she said. “The disease clouds your mind, and it was like being awake for the first time in a long time.”

England always will be on medication, because doctors could not fix her immune system. Many times, the liver will repair itself, but with the immune system constantly causing problems, hers could not, she said.

She has to keep her immune system suppressed. The result is she has colds a little longer than normal. When someone has a cold that lasts two days, the same cold will take England two weeks to eliminate.

Through her illness, England said she learned a number of lessons.

“It’s important for anyone going through that to be careful about prejudging people,” she said.

There is a misconception about organ donations, and many of those misconceptions are not true. She said the illness was a great lesson for her family and her faith. She learned endurance and compassion.

“The lessons learned involve love, how to care, take care of one another,” England said.

She no longer works, and she and her husband, Chuck, recently celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. England spends her time writing, spending time with her seven grandchildren and doing volunteer work with the Oklahoma Blood Institute and LifeShare. She also does public speaking and recently addressed a women’s retreat.  She also will make herself available for others.

“I get out there and tell my story,” she said. That story is never complete without talking of her faith.

“I don’t know how I could have done it without it,” she said.

Even the transplant experience is not just physical, but spiritual. She tells people God always was there. When she looks back at the time before the transplant and compares it to now, she said the main thing she has is “life.”

“I have more life and energy now that I didn’t have before. If I hadn’t had the transplant, I wouldn’t be here,” England said. “The difference between now and before my transplant is that I am alive, and I am determined to use every day that I am able to celebrate that life by loving and encouraging others.”

She said she still does not know the name of her donor.

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