Amy Pannell was no stranger to doctors or medication.
In 1984, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a form of overactive immune response that leads to chronic inflammation of the intestines. When she was 25, she was diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis, an irritation and swelling of the liver’s bile ducts that blocks the flow of bile and leads to the scarring known as cirrhosis.
Still, she said she was shocked in the spring of 2007, when doctors told her she would need a liver transplant. Pannell, then working as a gate agent at Comair, assumed her symptoms were reactions to her Crohn’s medication.
But, in reality, she was jaundiced and in need of a new liver. Within a few days, she was admitted to UC Health University Hospital, where doctors attempted to open her liver’s blocked ducts and drain the bile.
She was placed on the transplant list that July and had two close calls within a month. Rushed to the hospital for one possible transplant, she was the told the available liver wouldn’t fit in her petite, 5-foot-2-inch frame.
A second possible donor was found to have previously undetected cancer.
"You learn lots of things in the transplant process,” she says, "and I learned patience. There are things you have to be patient for, and that was one of them.”
On Sunday, August 19, Pannell got a third call about a possible organ. She arrived at the hospital with her husband, daughter Ashley and sister at 11 a.m.
"By 3 p.m., they told me it was a good liver, and it was a go,” she says.
She also learned that her donor was a teenage girl. Years later, she still tears up talking about it.
"It’s an awful feeling, because you know that somebody lost their baby,” she says. "Yet, they gave me the gift of life.”
The United Network of Organ Sharing estimates there are 110,527 people in the U.S. waiting for an organ. Amit Tevar, MD, director of the liver transplantation program at University Hospital, says liver transplantation in particular suffers from an "ever-present” organ shortage.
Pannell’s transplant allowed her to enjoy a new, healthy life with her family. In the years since, she’s traveled to Europe with her husband and watched her daughter graduate from Butler University and begin studies at UC’s College of Law.
"I know the donor family will never get to see their child do those things, and that’s hard,” she says.
"I can’t imagine how they felt, but they really are my heroes.”
Ickey Woods Speaks, Donate Life Flag Raised on April 1
UC Health University Hospital held its annual Donate Life flag-raising Friday, April 1.
Featured speaker and former Bengals player Ickey Woods spoke about the importance of organ donation.
Woods’ son, Jovante Woods, died in 2010 from complications of an asthma attack. Woods donated Jovante’s heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas, saving four lives in the process.