DENVER — When Denver7 spoke to Amy Donegan in April, she was on a race to find a life-saving liver donation.
Diagnosed with nodular regenerative hyperplasia — a rare, deadly disease that affects blood flow to the liver — Amy's doctors had given her about a year left to live without a successful donation from a match.
Now, seven months later, we followed up with Amy and her family as they prepare to celebrate the holidays following a successful liver transplant.
Denver woman with rare liver disease searching for living donor
Finding a match for Donegan proved difficult. Her husband, Bob Donegan, reached out to Denver7 asking us to help spread the word of her search for a matching donor, after her adult children were determined to not be viable options.
"I felt like, there's something we can do," Bob told Denver7 at the time. "When the doctor said a liver transplant was an option, we got going on that."
Amy's son, Jake Farrier, was the closest to a successful match but did not have compatible antibodies — a common occurrence between parents and children. Farrier thought he was off the table, until his phone rang months after his initial test.
"I got a call from the coordinator," Farrier recalled. "She said, 'Hey, you're a match, but we'll have to do what's called the donor swap,' which is where I would donate to another recipient, and the donor that they had lined up would then donate to my mom... keep in mind, I thought I was ruled out. So, we quickly got things back into gear, and two weeks later, we were both on the operating table."
That was in May. The months-long recovery journey since, for both Donegan and Farrier, has been quite different for each.
For Farrier, it has been a fairly straightforward path, with only about two weeks of initial bed rest. Because his liver was healthy and functioned normally, it is estimated his liver had fully regenerated within about a month of the surgery.
"[She] brought me into this world, so it's the least I could do," Farrier laughed.
For Amy, recovery has been slower — and at times, much scarier. She learned from medical staff that she flatlined after the operation while being monitored in the post-anesthesia care unit.
"Everybody was screaming and yelling, 'Breathe, Amy! Breathe!' And I couldn't," Amy recalled. "And then, it all got quiet. I was able to breathe. I saw a light. I saw a farmhouse, and a gray sky. I grew up in southwest Wisconsin, so I think that's where that came in because that's really home to me. And then I came back, and somebody was shoving the oxygen mask in my face."
Amy still needs regular blood tests to monitor her health, and said she feels better some days than others. But her long-term outlook is good. In 2023, she has gone from planning the end of her life to planning the holidays with the people she loves most.
"We're gonna have almost the whole family together for the holidays, which I'm excited about because the cousins will be meeting each other for the first time," Amy said, planning for her house full of kids and grandkids.
"A big old family Christmas," Farrier added.
Both Amy and Farrier hope others will consider living donation. You can learn more about the living donor process on UCHealth's website.
The process is completely confidential, and no commitment is required. Selected matches, if they decide to proceed with donation, are not responsible for any costs of the procedure.