SEARSPORT, Maine — Kristy Weaver is a 35-year-old mom of four who lives for her children — and after being diagnosed with liver disease, she is fighting for her life.
Her family and friends hope that others might consider fighting for her life, too. To that end, they created a page on gofundme.com. Although there is a monetary fundraising goal listed on the page, its real purpose is to try and find a person who could be a living organ donor for Weaver. Finding a donor, according to the doctors, is now her best chance for survival and time is of the essence.
“We are looking for anyone who would be willing to give her the gift of life,” April Collins, Weaver’s honorary aunt, wrote on the gofundme page. “Could you find it in your heart to be tested? I never ask for help for myself, but I am pleading with all of you to find it in your hearts to help save this young mom’s life.”
Weaver, a 1998 graduate of Searsport District High School, is a single mother who more than anything loves spending time with her children. Her mother, Brenda Ritchie, described her daughter Sunday as a homebody and a private person who doesn’t want to talk about herself very much.
Four years ago, Kristy got sick, and lately her illness has been getting much worse. In October, she finally got a medical diagnosis: cryptogenic cirrhosis, a common cause of liver-related death in the United States.
Although cirrhosis typically is caused by drinking too much alcohol, that’s not the case for Kristy. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common cause of cryptogenic cirrhosis. Although doctors don’t know why she has it, Kristy Weaver knows what it does. It makes her tired. It has made it hard to move around, and it has caused her to lose too much weight. Now, she’s being fed through tubes as she waits and hopes for a donor to come forward.
“She wants to be active with the kids, and she can’t,” Brenda Ritchie said.
Ritchie and Collins both have been tested to be a living donor for Kristy, but, to their dismay, neither of them was a match.
“It was a huge disappointment,” Collins said. “We were really desperate.”
That’s why they’ve branched out in their quest. Collins and Ritchie have not heard of other people in need of an organ transplant seeking a living donor through social media, but they thought it worthwhile to try. Lately, they’ve been a little more hopeful another donor might step forward, as more and more people have shared the gofundme page and worked to get the word out. They’ve been helped in that quest by Matt Shaw of Winterport, a high school classmate of Kristy, who came close to death nine years ago when his liver failed.
“At first I was shying away from the live donor choice,” Shaw said. “In my mind, I didn’t want to bother people.”
But his brother told him he didn’t have a choice anymore and gave his ailing relative half of his healthy liver.
“It was a very close call by the time I ended up getting the transplant. I had at most 48 hours to live,” Shaw said. “I remember waking up in recovery. You are hooked to every machine known to man. You’re so drugged up. But as soon as I was conscious, I knew that I felt better.”
Shaw was in the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, for nine days after the transplant. His brother was out in just three or four. According to the medical center’s webpage about live donor liver transplantation, the donor surgery typically takes about six hours, and the average donor will be in the hospital for seven to 10 days. They must stay in the area for about a week after being discharged and must return for several follow up appointments over the next two years.
“He doesn’t regret it at all. When you can do something like that for somebody — to save a life — that’s incredible,” Shaw said. “I told him it made it hard to shop for him at Christmas after that.”
When Shaw learned Weaver was suffering from liver disease and needed a transplant, he knew he wanted to help her out however he could, including sharing what he learned about living donors through his experience.
“If there’s any risk to the donor at all, doctors won’t do it,” Shaw said.
Although Weaver had a hard time expressing herself, her tears say a lot. She also wanted to thank her mother, Collins, Shaw, her uncle Nick Robbins, her aunt Cindy Robbins, and her children — Gabe, Talon, Cyrus and Jillian — for all their help during her sickness.
Anyone willing to consider donating part of their healthy liver to save Kristy Weaver’s life should know the liver regenerates to normal size within several weeks, and the surgery is done through a thin incision. Weaver’s health insurance will cover expenses for a donor, including being tested and the surgery.
According to the webpage for the Lahey Hospital, where Weaver is being treated, living liver donors must have a compatible blood type and body size, be healthy and be between the ages of 18 and 60.
Now that the gofundme page has been shared hundreds of times, a few people — strangers to Kristy Weaver — have volunteered to be tested to see if they’ll be a match.
“I think it restores faith in humanity, that people would offer to do that,” Collins said. “There’s still good people out there.”
To help Kristy Weaver, visit gofundme.com/jvrfyc. The living organ transplant would be done through the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts. For information about the hospital, visit lahey.org.
Additionally, there will be a benefit dance for Kristy Weaver at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21, at the Front Street Pub in Belfast.