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A liver transplant survivor

Mia Portis: A liver transplant survivor and ‘thriver’

Mia Portis is anticipating the adventure of a lifetime this fall. She is hopeful she will get an opportunity to fly more than 7,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to teach in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Portis’ exuberance for life is understandable. She received a liver transplant in February 2012, and she is not about to take life for granted any longer.

A life-changing annual physical

Portis admits neglecting yearly physicals. She thought, “Why go to the doctor when you eat reasonably well, work out regularly, don't smoke, don't get sick a lot?” One day, literally out of the blue, she felt compelled to get a check-up. It was that casual visit for a routine check-up that changed her life forever.

A standard blood test revealed she had liver damage. A biopsy later confirmed it was already at the cirrhosis stage, which means scar tissue had built up in her liver, preventing her liver from functioning properly. This scar tissue essentially blocks the flow of blood through the liver and slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs and naturally-produced toxins. It also slows the production of proteins and other substances made by the liver.

Her liver transplant

After a year on steroids, Portis wasn't getting any better. In fact, for the first time she was actually starting to feel worse. She was extremely tired all the time and uncomfortable from the weight gain due to the steroids. The ticket to better health was a liver transplant.

Being on the transplant list was a rollercoaster ride for Portis. After several failed opportunities, the fourth liver that was offered was “the one.” It was a four-year long journey to get to that point. But when it finally was upon her, Portis was prepared mentally, emotionally and physically for this turning point, thanks to the staff at Piedmont Transplant Institute.

Portis remembers her eight-day stay at the hospital very vividly.

"It brings me to tears every time I think of all the beautiful people who touched my life in the hospital," she says. "The staff at Piedmont Hospital had the best bedside manner. They encouraged me, supported me and pushed me to see that this marked a very exciting turning point in my life."

Transplant surgeon Mark Johnson, M.D., performed her surgery. When the surgery was over, he reassured Portis that she made the right choice. Her liver was far more damaged than he had initially thought. Now she was on the road to recovery.

The road to recovery

The first five months were tough. Portis did not realize how depleted her strength and stamina had become. Her muscles were weak and had shrunken over that four-year wait period. During her follow-up care with Roshan Shrestha, M.D., a liver disease and transplant specialist, he assured her that her health would improve around the five-month recovery mark, and it did.

"I had forgotten what it felt like to feel great," says Portis. "After my surgery, I slowly started to work out again and regain my strength. Step by step, I had a renewed sense of life in every sense of the word."

Big dreams and a second chance at life

Portis made some big changes in her life. She quit her job and is currently teaching kids who are under the care of the Division of Family and Children Services. She is in the interview process for a teaching job overseas and is hopeful she will have the opportunity to experience another culture. She also has a bigger dream, though, that she is still holding onto.

"God gave me a second chance at life, so I need to live life to the fullest. Ultimately I want to raise awareness among people of color about the need and importance of organ donation. I'm passionate about this. I'm not sure how I'm going to get there yet, but I pray an opportunity will open for me to fulfill this dream."

Portis also has the utmost, heart-felt sympathy and honor for the family who lost a loved one in the midst of her renewed life. She has sent the family thank-you and sympathy cards through the transplant program. She will never know who they are, but she is hopeful they feel comfort knowing their loved one gave the gift of life to someone else. 

Click here to see Portis and other organ transplant recipients thank their donors. 

To learn more about organ transplantation, visit Piedmont Transplant Institute

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