In recognition of April’s designation as National Donate Life Month, during which Americans are encouraged to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors, lifelong Grayson County resident Linda Baxter sat down to share how organ donation gave her a second chance at life.
Baxter’s journey began in 2018, when, after being sick for the first part of March of that year, she went to the doctor, and testing discovered a mass on her kidney.
On March 27, 2018, surgery was performed to remove Baxter’s left kidney; however, days later, she found herself unable to breathe. It was determined that her lungs were full of fluid, and she was in need of a liver transplant.
Five months to the day after her kidney surgery, Baxter was then placed on the transplant list. Baxter said her doctors theorized that she may have been suffering from cirrhosis of the liver for a decade, and it may have gone unnoticed had she not become afflicted with the mass on her kidney.
Her health deteriorated over the next year as she waited for a new liver, gaining over 130 pounds of fluid.
Finally, after nearly 12 months of waiting, doctors informed Baxter that they had been unable to locate a donor, and she would be sent home from the hospital on Aug. 26, 2019.
Baxter said this news meant she was, essentially, going home to die, but that grim fate would not come to pass.
Baxter was told a liver had been found the same day she was supposed to go home, and, on Aug. 27, 2019, she said, “I got my second chance at life.”
After a surgery that lasted over seven-and-a-half hours, Baxter received her new liver and was taken off a ventilator the following day. While the next year would prove to be a struggle as her body adjusted to the new liver, her mental health had improved greatly.
“I was so grateful to be alive,” she said.
Today, Baxter said she is amazed by how well she feels, and wakes up each morning thankful to God and her donor for giving her another day.
“I’m so blessed to be here,” she said. “I feel so good. Sometimes I just want to get out and shout.”
In recent months, Baxter’s health has improved to the point she is now ready to begin advocating for the cause that saved her life, and she hopes that, by sharing her story, it will encourage others to register as organ donors.
“If I can talk and save even one person from having their family member die, it is so worth it,” said Baxter.
Joining Baxter’s efforts is Clarkson Police Chief Buck Meredith, a long-time advocate for organ donation following his decision to donate 66% of his liver to his uncle, Bruce, in 2016.
Buck Meredith, who sat down with Baxter to discuss organ donation on Monday, said that, while the majority of people in Grayson County know his and his uncle’s story, many may not be aware that his journey to become an organ donor actually began in 2001.
In 2001, he was engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Bethany Skaggs, who was an advocate for organ donation. In December of that year, Skaggs, who was 18 years old at the time, was killed in a car accident, and her parents chose to donate her organs to those in need of transplants.
Buck Meredith said he believes he was given the courage and desire to donate a portion of his liver to his uncle as a tribute to his late fiancée.
“When you lose a loved one, it’s never easy,” he said. “It’s always hard, but I do find a little bit of encouragement knowing that Bethany’s passing is helping others...I connected her passing and her donation to my donation to my uncle.”
According to Grayson County Circuit Court Clerk Stacie Blain, 9,288 Grayson County residents (47% of the county’s population) were registered organ donors as of March, marking a 24% increase since she took office in 2012.
Now, Blain said, her office’s goal is to increase that number to 50%. To do so would require 513 more Grayson County residents to register as organ donors.
“Grayson Countians are notorious for helping one another,” said Buck Meredith. “We need to encourage our family members and ourselves to help get that number over 50%.”
For more information about organ donation and how to register, call the Grayson County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office at 270-259-3040. Meredith and Baxter said they would be willing to speak with anyone who may have questions or concerns regarding organ donation, as well.