From the moment Caitlin was born, her mom and dad, Shawnna and Tim, knew that something was wrong. “Right away, we were going to a larger hospital for a transfusion,” remembers Tim. “And we'd been through two relatively easy births before with our other children. We knew it wasn't good.”
“Caitlin was born with a tumor on her liver,” explains Shawnna. “There were so many surgeries and procedures, and there was one time she even 'coded.' They had to start her heart again. She barely survived.”
“We almost lost her,” agrees Tim. “Many times. I would come to the hospital to see her and she would light up with the biggest smile when I came in. She was my inspiration. But after a while she wouldn't smile. That's how I knew she was getting desperately sick.”
Little Caitlin was put on the waiting list for a liver at the age of 5 months. Just two days later, they got the call. A young man, Jeff, had died in a tragic fall; and he was a match for Caitlin. “It's a terrible moment,” says Tim. “At one time you're thrilled that your child is going to live. At the same time, you know some other family is going through the worst moment in their lives.”
Caitlin received a partial liver transplant from Jeff, and the healing began. “It's been a long process,” says Shawnna. They also connected with the family of Caitlin's donor. Jeff's family has told them Caitlin was the only thing that made sense out of their son's death.
Today, Caitlin is in first grade. Her family can't imagine life without their miracle baby. She loves to sing and dance and is an active, loving child. “She's so grateful,” says Shawnna. “She's always happy,” adds her father.
The family keeps a picture of Jeff in Caitlin's room, along with a candle in the window. When asked, Caitlin simply says, “This is Jeff. He saved my life.”
And the family remains active in transplant recipient events. They're all registered organ donors themselves. “I'd implore anyone who has the opportunity to say ‘yes,’ check the box and tell your family,” says Tim. “You have the chance to do something great.”