Being the recipient of a liver transplant means I live differently. I will never give up and always live to share a smile. I run today to thank my organ donor for my life, and to inspire others.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ꟷ I’m not just a gold medalist; I received the first ever shared liver transplant in Argentina.
When I run, I feel my feet hitting the ground and my heart beating. Everything happens in slow motion as I fly fast down the track. With each step I take, jump I make, and with every medal won, the achievement represents a fight I endured for my life.
It fills me with gratitude for the people who did everything in their power to give me this chance to finish my race. Although I am alone on the track, many people accompany me: my family, my doctors, and the organ donor who became my angel. Thanks to him, my lived experience continues to grow.
Within three months of my birth in Mar del Plata Maternal Hospital, my parents noticed my swollen abdomen and yellow eyes and skin. Doctors studied and observed me but by six months old, my condition worsened. They began to worry about my liver.
Too young for a transplant, doctors soon found I did not develop bile ducts and part of my liver could not function. An early but risky intervention showed good results at first, but a few months later, once again, I worsened. This time, my body went into a free fall. The symptoms of a swollen abdomen and yellowing came back, this time accompanied by a fever.
Desperate to understand how to save my life, my parents quit their jobs and we moved to Buenos Aires where I entered the Garrahan Hospital. As a baby with a faulty liver, death loomed around the corner. They placed me on a waiting list for a transplant.
The liver can regenerate so that a living donor can support the patient, by my parents’ livers were incompatible with mine. My maternal uncle and godfather offered to be tested and the compatibility revealed a 99.9 percent match, but hours before the surgery, he fell ill.
My desperate parents began praying as they placed me on the national organ transplant waiting list. Suddenly, a cadaveric (non-living) donor appeared. While his identity remains anonymous, I later learned my liver came from an 18-year-old boy who died in a traffic accident.
At 7 months old, I entered a 14-hour surgery in a serious state. Our choice: receive a transplant or die. Mine became the first case in Argentina of a “shared liver,” meaning I received one part and another woman on the list received the other part of the same liver.
My delicate, small body fought against the surgery. At one point, the doors of the operating room opened. Dr. Oscar Imventarza approached my parents. With tears in her eyes and a broken voice, my mother asked, “How is my baby girl?”
“Now we return for the second half,” he replied, “There are several rounds [of surgery].” The doctors went in and out. Following surgery, they engaged in many more hours of trying to stabilize my tiny body. The air could be cut by a knife as the sound of crying and prayers filled the waiting room. My parents had faith this was a fight they must win.
With hands like magic, these doctors save lives. They saved mine that day. Somehow, after taking a final break and resuming, they managed to stabilize me. In the end, they told my parents: “Your daughter is a little boat in the middle of the sea, now we have to wait for her to decide if she wants to live.”
They continued, “We have done everything in our power, and now, Juliana has to decide.” After several more surgeries and a year in the hospital, they discharged me. From that day forward, my parents adjusted to a life of regular check-ups, medication regimens, and daily care.
Caring for a new organ equates to responsibility for life. Receiving an organ gives you a second chance and a new opportunity. Today, 22 years after my transplant, I feel whole. I play sports and represented Argentina three times in the World Games for athletes who received transplants. I won medals in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 4×100 relay, 4×400, and was first in the world for two consecutive years.
I started my career as a high-performance athlete hand in hand with Graciela de Herrero. In 2015, they invited me to participate in qualifiers for the National Games for Transplanted Athletes in the province of Mendoza. They knew my time stamps from high school competitions and intercollegiate athletics. In my first nationals, my goal was simply to finish and get my time stamp, but they asked me to join the delegation.
Meeting other people with organ transplants for the first time shocked me. Boys and girls ran and swam with their scars showing. They shared their transplant experiences with me. They opened my mind, and I began living differently.
I remember the first time I showed my scar as if it happened yesterday. My teammates bet me I would not do it. Just before the 100-meter race began, I took off my shirt and ran in my sports top. Emotion overcame me with every step and acceleration. I felt liberated. A group of people waited to hug me and thank me for my courage.
Now I say my scar, which covers my entire abdomen, is like a big smile. Freedom and pride replaced the shame I felt before. I became a reference for others, who began showing the marks on their bodies as well.
That day, I ran and won the 100-meter. Then I ran 200 meters and took second. I took first overall. It felt like a dream, and I did not fall. As I continued to compete, I took first in long jump with such competitive time stamps, I qualified for the World Championship.
The World Cup in Mar del Plata proved an exciting and important moment because it took place in the city where all of family and friends could see me in a way they never saw me before – free.
I won that World Cup and after taking first, I qualified for Salta in 2016, then Spain in 2017, and finally, England in 2019. I won gold medals. Next up, I plan to compete in 2023 in the World Cup in Australia. I keep training and growing as a person.
Being the recipient of a liver transplant means I live differently. I will never give up and always to live to share a smile. I run today to thank my organ donor for my life, and to inspire others.
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