Published Wednesday, January 16, 2013
By NICHOLE GOLDEN
Donna Yarbrough of Newnan is looking forward to becoming a grandmother later this year. However, Yarbrough will need a new liver to be able to fulfill the dream of spending time with her grandchild.
Yarbrough, 58, has undergone the liver transplant screening process at Piedmont Atlanta. A fund to cover her pre- and post-transplant costs including expensive anti-rejection medications has been established through the Georgia Transplant Foundation.
Years ago, a liver doctor diagnosed Yarbrough with ulcerative colitis. She also has Crohn’s disease. Although these diseases contributed to poor liver health, Yarbrough is forthcoming and honest that her liver failure is due to cirrhosis - a scarring of liver tissue from alcoholism.
Yarbrough said she would drink wine on the weekends as a way to deal with life’s stresses. “I lived in a fog,” she said. “That was my choice.” For a while, Yarbrough was a “functioning alcoholic,” as she continued to work as a hair stylist and volunteer.
Eventually, Yarbrough’s liver could no longer filter toxins from her blood. She began to lose hair, weight and muscle mass and suffered from jaundice.
Her drinking decreased, but the level of toxins in her blood caused mental confusion. “I looked like something from ‘The Walking Dead,’” said Yarbrough.
After being hospitalized for the toxin levels, Yarbrough turned a corner. A nurse practitioner told her they would know from bloodwork if she had been drinking and Yarbrough assured the nurse she wasn’t.
Her physician also noticed a change, saying “You’re with God right now.” The doctor never thought he would be able to have the chance to tell Yarbrough that. At that point, he recommended her as a candidate for a liver transplant.
Yarbrough went to counseling, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings four to five times a week. At first, she was resistant to participating in the 12-step program for substance abuse but eventually became committed to the process.
“It goes to your inner self. You do a cleaning of yourself with God,” explained Yarbrough. Part of that recovery is admitting your mistakes and making amends to others.
As part of the transplant screening process, Yarbrough was required to attend classes on nutrition, financial preparations, surgery, life flight, and donor information.
Her overall health was screened thoroughly.
Yarbrough began to re-connect with former friends including Angela Stafford, who is doing simple exercises with her to help regain lost muscle mass. Yarbrough also has neuropathy (nerve damage) in her feet and has had to go slowly in adding more physical activity to her life.
“She has come a long way,” said Stafford. “I’ve seen her change a lot.”
“I am scared about it,” said Yarbrough about the transplant. “I’m only 58 years old.” But thinking of daughter, Kiessa DeAnn Robertson Ashley, and Kiessa’s expected baby is giving Yarbrough reasons to move forward.
She is thankful for her friends, daughter, her husband, and extended family in Douglasville who have been posting fliers about her Georgia Transplant Foundation fund.
The Georgia Transplant Foundation (GTF) fund will provide matching funds to cover transplant related costs not covered by insurance. This includes housing near Piedmont Hospital following surgery and anti-rejection medications. Such medications cost between $20,600 and $32,900 each year, making the co-pays unaffordable. Yarbrough will have to take these medications for the rest of her life.
To learn more about the fund, go to www.gatransplant.org and under “Fundraising Accounts,” click on “Individual Fundraising Pages.” Typing Yarbrough’s name into the search function will lead visitors to her page.
On the page Yarbrough wrote, “Transplantation can be an overwhelming situation and patients are encouraged to plan ahead for some of the uncovered and unforeseeable costs. GTF, my family and I thank you for your support in my endeavor to assume self-responsibility for my medical needs.”