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Daughter’s gift to her mother: A gift of life

IU Health University Hospital

Daughter’s gift to her mother: A gift of life

When her mother needed a liver transplant, Jessica Goss only had one issue – was she a match?

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

They’ve shared vacations, their faith, numerous shopping trips, and lots of laughter. Now Mildred “Lori” Herbert and her daughter Jessica Goss also share a liver.

Through IU Health’s living liver program, Goss was able to give her mom the gift of life on Feb. 15, 2021.

At the age of 17, Herbert contracted hepatitis. What followed was an adult life filled with elevated liver enzymes. About five years ago, a biopsy resulted in a diagnosis of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), causing inflammation and damage to her liver.

“It got progressively worse. My liver had already shrunk to half its size,” said Herbert, a resident of Bainbridge, Ind. – about 45 minutes from IU Health University Hospital. Two years ago she underwent gastric sleeve surgery with the idea of limiting food intake to reverse the liver damage. Under the care of IU Health gastroenterologist Dr. Lauren Nephew she began looking at other options. By February of 2019 Herbert was so ill she was forced to quit her accounting job.

“I was so tired all the time. I’d fall asleep at the drop of hat. Any type of exertion was more than I could handle,” said Herbert, who turned 59 at the beginning of April. Her legs were swollen. She bruised easily and it was not unusual for her nose and gums to bleed.

“When I first knew I’d need a transplant they put me on the list but immediately my daughters stepped up and said they wanted to be a donor,” said Herbert. Goss, 34, is her eldest daughter; Jennifer Long, 30, is the youngest. Thirty-eight years ago Herbert married her husband, Chris, who also has two children.

“My youngest daughter was insistent on becoming my donor,” said Herbert. “She’s headstrong and basically pushed Jessica aside,” she adds. Both she and Jessica laugh as they share the story. Surgery was scheduled for Dec. 14 and a week before, they discovered an inconsistency between the clotting factors of Jennifer and her mother.

“Jessica’s name means ‘God’s gift’ and when Jennifer couldn’t do it, Jess stepped in,” said Herbert. Tears begin to flow as both mother and daughter talk about the life-saving transplant. They describe it as a gift of life not only to Herbert but also to her daughters and other family members.

A living donor does not have to be related to the recipient. Compatibility is based on blood type (ABO). If the blood types do not match, there may still be options for living donation. Age and size are also taken into consideration.

Living liver donation involves removing a portion of a donor’s liver and then using it to replace a diseased liver in the recipient. While a living liver donor faces the typical risks of surgery, the liver regenerates and returns to full function within a month. Donors are admitted to the hospital early the morning of surgery. The surgery lasts from six to eight hours.

After the donation surgery, liver donors are monitored in the IU Health Transplant Intensive Care Unit for one to two days and then moved to the Organ Transplant Unit. The care team works closely with the donor to manage and minimize post-operative pain. Donors remain in the hospital as long as necessary but are usually discharged within one week after surgery.

“I can’t say enough about the transplant team at IU Health and my surgeon Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal,” said Herbert.

Goss doesn’t hesitate as she describes what she calls the worst pain of her life. She would do it all again for her mother.

“She’s always been there for us,” said Goss. “She instilled incredible faith in me growing up in the church and the value of being a good person. We’ve learned so much from her demeanor, her intelligence, her heart and her soul.” She relates how they enjoyed field trips, shopping for formals, vacationing in Puerto Rico, sharing spa days, and watching a Shakespeare play together. Each activity was filled with laughter.

“When I was little I remember curling up on the couch with mom and even as a teenager just curling up with her was something special. Even in adulthood she always knew how terrified I was of thunderstorms and always called to invite me to come to her basement,” said Goss. When she had her own son, 15 years ago, Goss remembers her mother watching the delivery with tears streaming down her face. “Then the next night I was so terrified of that baby, because I loved him so much and I was so scared to do something wrong. I called mom and went to her house with him in the middle of the night. Every couple of hours she was up with me, easing my anxiety, and comforting me and supporting me. I ended up staying at her house for two weeks,” said Goss.

Herbert isn’t sure how to explain her new lease on life.

“I was sick for so long that I’m not sure what that means now,” she said. She wants to be more involved in her church – Bainbridge Church of God – where she sings with the praise band. She wants to travel to Florida and she wants to play golf.

“When I think about what I’d say to Jessy, I’d say, ‘I’m proud to have raised such a loving and caring daughter that is willing to sacrifice all she has for me,” said Herbert. “It’s humbling and nothing in this world could ever mean as much to me as the unselfish love I’ve been shown by both my daughters. I would do the same in a heartbeat for them. I am truly blessed by their love, laughter and friendship. All the money or material things in the world cannot compare to the love I’ve been shown. My family is everything to me and I look forward to spending many more years together with them.”

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