Paying forward the gift of life
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nefeterius McPherson is a fifth-generation Texan, but she wore gold and blue at West Virginia University's game against the University of Texas in Austin last weekend. The shirt belonged to Taitlyn Hughes, 12, of Martinsburg, who died of a sudden brain hemorrhage last November.
"I always knew I was supposed to share our story," said McPherson, a 38-year-old lawyer from Killeen, Texas. "I'm getting a second chance at life because of this beautiful spirit that had to go."
McPherson was diagnosed with Secondary Schlerosing Cholangitis, a rare bile duct and liver disease, in her first year of law school at Southern Methodist University.
By May of last year, she was added to a liver transplant list.
But she never once feared dying.
"I just always knew I was going to get a donor. It's not easy to explain. I thought, if God is going to get me this far, graduating with honors from law school, it's going to work out," she said.
When McPherson got the call Nov. 6 that she had a liver, it set off a rollercoaster of emotions.
"I'm surprised my neighbors didn't call the cops. I was screaming and crying at 6 in the morning. I had hit a wall emotionally, mentally and physically, and just when I thought I wouldn't be able to wait any longer, it happened," she said.
But before she could receive the transplant, she was shocked to hear her donor was only a child.
"I'll never forget those words. I never thought my donor could be so young. How could I be happy about the transplant when I knew a family across town was mourning the loss of their child, their baby?" she said. "I really struggled with that. I still do sometimes. It's bittersweet."
McPherson couldn't wait to reach out to Taitlyn's family, but before she could, Taitlyn's mother sent the first letter.
She met her donor's family just three months following her surgery, which is uncommon for most transplant recipients.
Taitlyn's mother, Nicole Siva, was shocked when McPherson walked through her door.
"As soon as she walked in I noticed the similarities between her and Taitlyn -- their smiles, their beaming personalities. It was uncanny," Siva said. "They both loved football, they're both incredibly photogenic. They're both people who everyone wants to be around. Taitlyn was a kind, generous, gentle soul, and I got that same feeling from Nefeterius when I met her."
McPherson made a vow to keep Taitlyn's memory alive and spread awareness about the importance of organ donation, creating a public Facebook page to tell her story.
The WVU-Texas game marked the 11-month anniversary of her transplant, and when she posted a photo of her in Taitlyn's T-shirt with their story, she was shocked by the response.
"The love I've received from West Virginia is blowing my mind. In no time, my page went viral," she said. "I can't believe how generous the people there are.
People are already asking my address so they can send me WVU gear. I can't wait to come back there. I absolutely love it."
The Facebook page has nearly 3,000 likes, and people have taken to social networks to push for WVU to bring McPherson and Taitlyn's family to a football game. Siva said while Taitlyn, who often talked of her plans to "change the world," never got the chance to fulfill her dreams, McPherson is doing it for her.
"Not many 11-year-olds are passionate about being an organ donor. As soon as Taitlyn found out about it, she said it was what she wanted to do. She was a special little girl, wise beyond her years, who didn't get to do the things she wanted to. But she's doing them in passing," Siva said. "Nefeterius is doing what Taitlyn set out to do -- she's changing the world."
McPherson said she would always share Taitlyn's story wherever she goes.
"I'm going to keep sweet Taitlyn's memory alive all of my life because she's the reason I'm able to live it," she said. "She knew she was going to make a difference, she just didn't know in what way. I believe she's changing the world by helping others see the importance of organ donation."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at Mackenzie.firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.