HUNTINGTON — It's been so long since her liver transplant, Donna Bias can no longer easily recall what life was like before her transplant.
Bias, of Proctorville, Ohio, celebrated 25 years as a successful transplant patient Saturday with a surprise party organized by her family at the Jefferson Avenue Church of God in Huntington.
Today, 70% of liver transplant patients live for at least five years. As far as Joy Adkins knows, Bias is the longest living survivor in the Tri-State.
"It's pretty rare to see someone to live with a liver transplant for 25 years," said Adkins, who is the community outreach coordinator for the Kentucky/West Virginia Organ Donors Affiliates (KODA). "It's very exciting. I'm very proud of her. She's taken great care of herself and been a great steward to her gift of life - her donated organs."
Bias was on the transplant wait list for three years after being diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis in 1991. On her 25th wedding anniversary, a doctor told her she had about two years left to live. Now called primary biliary cholangitis, the autoimmune disease is one cause of non-alcoholic cirrhosis. The cause is not known. Bias's only symptom was itchiness.
"It was a shock when the doctor tells you that you have two years to live and you didn't even know you were sick," she said.
At the time, organ transplants weren't as widely known as they are today and all Bias knew was that it was her only chance at life. So she searched for the best liver transplant surgeon - a doctor in Pittsburgh - and began the wait.
She had bloodwork every week, along with a weekly shot, and received several blood transfusions due to her spleen eating up white blood cells. Her spleen enlarged to the size of a football.
She also remained incredibly itchy - to the point it was sometimes hard to even wear clothes.
All the while she worked and raised her family. Her daughter, Stephanie Foster, was still in high school. As she prepared for graduation, they were called to Pittsburgh because the doctors thought they had a match, but in the end it didn't work out.
"She was always there," Foster said. "She was sick, but she was at every game. She was at graduation. She never stopped being there."
Finally, in September of 1994, a liver was finally found for Bias, and she had a successful transplant surgery. Other than the immunosuppressant medication all transplant patients must take daily for the rest of their lives, Bias has had no other issues with her new liver.
Her transplant means she got to be there as her children grew up, got married and started their own families. She now has 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren who are the light of her life.
"Having her here is the greatest blessing," said Kayla Wilson, one of the 10 grandchildren. "She has touched everyone she's ever met. She is the biggest blessing."
She's also been able to travel the world with her husband, visiting places like Ireland and Greece.
For many years, she also gave back by serving as the coordinator of the Tri-State Transplant Support Group in Huntington.
"It was started by another couple," Bias said. "Jim had gone through a liver transplant, and he was such a big help to me since he had been through the procedure. We realized other people in our area may not have any help. That was the reason they started the group. I did the research to help other people, to help them through the process."
She still volunteers with KODA today.
For those waiting for an organ today, Bias said to not become discouraged, but trust your doctors and God.
To help others get a chance at life like Bias, register to be an organ donor either at your area Department of Motor Vehicles or online at www.donatelifewv.org.