Emily Duncan, Recipient
A Recipient Grateful for A Second Chance at Life
Posted May 29, 2018
Emily Duncan went to her doctor in 2015, six years after she was diagnosed with polycystic liver disease. Her liver – and the cysts that were consuming it – had grown to a point where she had a hard time breathing. Her liver was pushing on her stomach, and Emily estimates she was eating less than 1,000 calories a day. Sleeping was difficult. “It literally made me feel like I was pregnant,” Emily said. “That’s how far my stomach was sticking out.”
Polycystic liver disease is a condition in which the liver is consumed by cysts, and the cysts keep multiplying. In 2013, Emily’s gastroenterologist tried draining one of the bigger cysts on her liver to provide relief. The cyst quickly refilled with fluid. She needed a lifesaving liver transplant.
Emily was an avid bowler before polycystic liver disease changed her life. She enjoys walking and the outdoors. She’s a Cardinals and Blues fan. In 2015, she didn’t have the strength to enjoy her favorite activities.
Emily started the transplant process in October of 2015. She was officially listed in January of 2016. On February 15, 2016, she was moved up the list because of her condition. Five days later, she received the call. “The day I got the call, I was planning with my sister for when I did get the call,” Emily said. “We finished that conversation, went to lunch, and when I got home I got the call. Mentally, I wasn’t prepared because I figured it would be three to six months. By no means did I think five days.”
Emily’s liver weighed 22 pounds when it was removed. By comparison, a typical liver weights between three and four pounds. She was released from the hospital just five days after transplant. Yet, a month later she was rushed to the hospital with internally bleeding. “I coded twice,” Emily said. “Through it all, my liver was the only organ that didn’t shut down.”
A few months later after she recovered, Emily wrote her donor’s family. “I just told her my family extended our condolences for the loss of their loved one,” she said. It was the first of three letters she would send to the family of Tyler Laurent, a 22-year-old who smiled big and would help anyone. Tyler’s mother, Gidget, shared his story.
In November of 2017, Emily and Gidget met each other for the first time. They had lunch with their families and shared each other’s story. “It’s hard to describe the emotions you go through,” Emily said. “While I’m grateful for life and I’m grateful for her following through with Tyler’s wishes, I was in pain for her for losing her only child. It was just emotional. We hugged and cried for a good minute.”
Emily and Gidget talk a few times a week still. They spent Christmas together. In March of 2018, Emily joined Gidget as she met Tyler’s heart recipient. “My heart breaks because my son’s not here,” Gidget said. “But at the same time, I can’t imagine him not being able to donate his organs. For me, it gives me closure to know he’s still here in other people.”
Said Emily: “I’m just so grateful we can continue this relationship and be a part of each other’s lives. I know it’s difficult for her, but I hope it brings some comfort.”