RENO, NV – Twenty-one-year-old liver transplant recipient Joey Parrish considers the last 15 years of his life to be a beautiful gift given to him by a stranger. Now he’s paying that gift forward by how he lives his life.
To that end, he recently began work as a Tissue Recovery Coordinator for Sierra Donor Services as he finishes up his Bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from the University of Nevada, Reno. He plans to next earn his Masters in Medical Science for Anesthesiology – all with the desire to give back.
“I was born with a rare liver disease, biliary atresia., which causes cirrhosis of the liver. When I was 10 weeks old I had a Kasai procedure, which involved removing my blocked bile ducts and gallbladder and replacing them with a segment of my own small intestine. It was supposed to buy me six months until I could get a transplant. It lasted six years.”
But, those six years were not easy ones for Joey.
“Unfortunately, as I grew bigger, so did my stomach. I developed so much fluid on my abdomen, that I could hardly breathe. By the time I was three years old, I ate all of my meals standing up, just so I could catch my breath in between bites. It was difficult to walk up the stairs without oxygen. “
When he was five, Joey spent most of his year, not in kindergarten, but in the hospital, due to infections of his liver, which caused him to have jaundice, fevers and very low energy.
Finally, Joey received his liver transplant at age six, on August 21, 1999.
“Now, I wake up each morning, and the first thing I think is how amazing it is to be alive. Even though I am 15 years post-transplant, it is still very important to me to give back, by helping to raise awareness and educate others about the need for organ donation.”
So Joey says his new job as Tissue Recovery Coordinator for Sierra Donor Services is a perfect fit..
“It’s just amazing to be able to help people out like this – and go full circle with everything I’ve been through,” says Joey. “I want to give back as much as I can – in the same way that my donor and medical team helped me. “
Besides speaking to groups, including the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, Joey says sharing his experience with his medical professional colleagues is also important.
“I’m a living example of how what we are doing truly helps improve and save lives. Besides my fellow Tissue Recovery Coordinators, I also talk with hospital personnel. I’m on the other side of what they usually don’t get to see — the recipient — and I can help them understand how what they do makes such a huge difference for life.”
Joey says thanks to his donor, he’s able to enjoy the normal things that all college students do – like dirt biking, snowboarding and photography.
“The most important significance that donation has had in my life is obvious, I am alive today with great expectations for a wonderful future. Without the gift of donation I would not be here today.”
Joey encourages all Nevadans to sign up to give life at: www.donateLIFEnv.org.
*Sierra Donor Services is a Dialysis Clinic Inc. Donor Services (DCIDS) subsidiary. SDS is a nonprofit agency dedicated to meeting the needs of the community by providing families the option of organ and tissue donation for transplantation and research. SDS serves Northern Nevada as well as Inland Northern California. www.sierradonor.org.