Maui woman plans move to mainland to find liver donor
We talk with her and her mom about the move and her health.
By Eliza Larson
A Maui woman may soon move far away from the Valley Isle – relocating in the heart of the continental U.S. All for a new liver.
"I remember I woke up just feeling really horrible," said Jessica Vares. "My body was aching. I couldn't keep anything down. Fever, everything."
24-year-old Vares might've felt horrible, but the early morning call she got from her doctors was even worse.
"They woke me up bright and early and basically told me that my liver's failing and I need another transplant," she said.
Jessica needs another liver – her third.
"Here we go again."
She lives in Kula but comes to Oahu for appointments, often with her mom, Laurie. Doctors tell her she was born with an abnormality that can lead to liver failure.
At 7 weeks old, doctors tried to slow down the progression by operating on her. Then at 2 and a half years old, she got a liver transplant. And for roughly 20 years it worked.
Now, the ordeal begins again.
"Nobody told my mom that I would ever need a second transplant," said Vares. "And so we thought once I was transplanted, I was done. I wouldn't have to go through all this again, but now I have to."
"Are you disappointed?" "Yeah," she responded.
"It was easier then, because she didn't understand," said Jessica's mom, Laurie Vares. "There's times when she'll look at me and she'll go 'why, Mom? Why me? Why twice? I don't want to die. I have so much to live for.' So this time around, because I can't just watch her play, she comprehends."
And what she comprehends is just how serious her symptoms have become.
"So my eyes, I was orange," Jessica said. "Fluorescent yellowish orange."
And she sees how worried her doctors are getting.
"The doctors are now concerned about my muscles, because my muscles are now deteriorating."
Jessica and her mom will soon move to Rochester, Minnesota, home of cold winters and the Mayo Clinic transplant team.
According to Mayo Clinic statistics, the liver transplant team in Rochester performed 131 liver transplants in 2016, including 22 living donor transplants. It's a new method where doctors remove a chunk of a living person's healthy liver to replace the failing liver in the patient. The missing chunk grows back in the donor and the transplant grows bigger in the recipient.
It's an option Jessica's doctors in Minnesota are considering. Several family members on Maui took a test to see if they were a match, but they were not.
Mayo doctors say it's not just about finding a perfect match, but many people do not want to give up the time and money needed for the surgery – as well as a piece of their organ.
Jessica said she and her mom are raising money to help with their move to Minnesota this spring -- after the cold winter passes – to wait for a liver.
"I know everybody in Hawaii is struggling, so I don't expect millions of dollars," Jessica said.
"Is there any part of you that's worried that it may not happen?" "Yeah, and they always tell us, every time, if I get to the point where I'm so sick that they can't fly me out there, they tell my mom, straight up, that I'll die."
Jessica says she’s happy for having time at home, surrounded by family. She says what makes it harder this time is not having her grandpa there with her.
Despite tests, needles, disappointments, and fears, Jessica said things she looks forward to getting married and becoming a mom.
"Sometimes, I just think how unfair it is, only because it's what I want so much. And I can't have it. Not yet."
Anyone can take a test to see if they are a match for Jessica by heading to the Mayo Clinic Transplant website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/departments-centers/transplant-center/home/orc-20203891
And to help Jessica's family with finances head to: https://crowdfundingexposure.com/friends-of-jessica-vares-gofundme-boost-ididit-campaign-donors-crowdfunding-exposure/