West Monroe, La. - Kayse Holmes-Rice can now enjoy activities like pushing her two-year-old son Gideon on a swing.
Just four months ago, the young mom was deathly ill. She was so weak some days, she could barely get out of bed.
During a family vacation at Panama Beach in 2012, Kayse and her family saw first signs that led them down a road, toward a life-altering health battle.
"We were swimming in the water and Stephen my husband, who was actually my fiance at the time, said 'wow your eyes look really green.' and I said 'yeah, we've been together for three years. Why are you just noticing that my eyes are green?' and he said 'No, I'm talking about the whites of your eyes are green.' and I said 'maybe it's just the water reflecting.' recalls Kayse.
She also started having nausea and extreme fatigue. After two months, countless tests, and several doctors opinions, she got an official diagnosis.
Her doctor said Kayse had Autoimmune Hepatitis, a disease that caused her immune system to attack her liver.
"He thinks that I got Mono and even though the virus was gone, my body kept fighting the healthy liver. It's just always attacked the healthy liver every since then," says Kayse.
A 2012 biopsy revealed her liver was slightly damaged, but doctors optimistically said the organ would heal itself.
In the meantime Kayse was placed on steroids and immunosuppresive drugs.
She returned to a somewhat normal life, learning to live with the disease and the occasional flare ups.
"That's the thing with liver disease is sometimes you'd be alright, sometimes you're really low," says Kayse. "You never know when you wake up, what it's going to be you just have to take it as it comes."
Kayse's "new normal" meant she dealt with her disease through milestones like her wedding day and honeymoon in 2013 and throughout her pregnancy in 2015.
"When [Gideon] was born, it got serious and I had to really try to take care of myself," she says.
In the Summer of 2016 Kayse's liver became worse.
"I was sick constantly. Always yellow, always tired, always throwing up," Kayse recalls.
That's when doctor's broke the news to her she would need a new liver. Kayse recalls the life-altering conversation.
"[Dr. David Dies] wanted to do another biopsy since we hadn't had one done since 2012. He said, 'there is cirrhosis, it's very damaged, you're probably going to need a transplant'. All of a sudden he just said, 'You're going to need a transplant, so I'm going to send you to Ochsner's to see them down there because I can't help you any more' that's what he said."
In that moment, Kayse's mind immediately turned to her young son, Gideon.
"When the doctor in Shreveport told me that, that's one of the first things I thought about," says Kayse. "I told him, I said 'I'm not worried about dying because I know I'm going to go to Heaven and I'm not worried about my soul. But I have a son to take care of.' "
"I just didn't want to leave my son without a mom. That was my main concern." she adds.
Doctors at Ochsner's Transplant Institute in New Orleans determined Kayse's liver was significantly damaged enough for the transplant list.
It was anyones guess how long she'd have to wait. She says her faith in God got her through it.
"I kept thanking Him. Even in the bad times, I was thanking Him for the good times that are coming because I knew that if it was bad, there was good right around the corner and that He was working it all out for my good," she says. "I wasn't really worried. I really wasn't worried about it."
But the worst for Kayse was still to come.
A few days after Thanksgiving, she had to be air lifted to New Orleans. Her liver was failing.
"It was a Wednesday, November 30th. When I woke up, I couldn't hold water down or anything. Every time I would sip on water I was throwing it up. I woke up freezing cold, shivering. My mom came and laid with me and she tried to warm me up with her body heat and it wasn't even cold outside or cold in the house, but I was just freezing. I went to the bathroom to throw up and I just passed out. She couldn't get me to wake up and she was throwing water on me and I couldn't wake up." recalls Kayse.
Kayse spent the next three weeks at Ochsner's. Then three days before Christmas doctors let her go home for the holidays.
She'd get to see her son Gideon open his Christmas gifts.
Within a few weeks, Kayse received a gift of her own.
On January 14th, just a week after her 25th birthday, she got her new liver.
Family members captured a photo of Kayse waking up from the surgery, giving a thumbs up and flashing a smile.
Laws prohibit transplant recipients, like Kayse, from knowing specific information about their organ donor including name or cause of death.
All Kayse knows is that the healthy new liver inside her body once belonged to a middle aged woman.
"I think about that lady every day. I have a picture in my mind of what she looks like and I think about her and pray for their family all the time," says Kayse.
Through Ochsner's, she is now reaching out to the donor's family.
"I have written a letter to the family. I just haven't sent it yet. I have to take it to New Orleans and they have to send it because they don't want me to know [the family's] information," says Kayse.
"I want them to know that I appreciate it and that it's going to good use, that I'm not just going to be a bum or a shady person and not take care of it. I'm going to live my life to the fullest, " she adds.
At her welcome home BBQ in April, Kayse proudly sports a shirt that says "I Contain Recycled Parts."
After the battle she's been through her advice is simple; live life to the fullest and consider organ donation.
"I'm not talking about go out and bungee jump and do crazy stuff every day, but always tell people that you love, that you love them. Make sure that when you go to bed everything is okay, you're not mad or holding any grudges because you don't know if you're going to wake up the next morning," says kayse
"You can't take your organs to Heaven. Souls go to Heaven, organs don't. You're not going to use it anyway," she adds.
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