Spotlight: Mallory Smith Legacy Scholarship
For months leading into her senior year of high school, Mallory Smith did not feel quite right. Doctors struggled to find an answer as to what was plaguing her. Her mother, Lisa, knew something was very wrong when Mallory felt so bad that she declined to go to cheerleading camp, something she’d never miss if she had a choice.
Her parents took her to the emergency room right away, and the next day, she was transferred to the ICU. A day later, she was placed on the organ transplant waiting list, and two days after that, she received her second chance at life with the gift of a liver transplant. Mallory was diagnosed with Wilson’s Disease, a genetic disorder that causes excess Copper build-up. If not for her swift transplant, she would not have survived another 24 hours.
Mallory spent the majority of her senior year of high school going in and out of the hospital. Even when faced with such difficulties, she never complained or asked, “Why me?” She maintained her positive attitude and persevered. “Her strength was amazing,” Lisa recollects, and despite her struggles, she graduated with an impressive 4.3 GPA. Mallory’s silly sense of humor shined especially bright during this time. She even went on to name her liver “Phil” after former Tennessee football head coach Phil Fulmer, who she was not a fan of.
Despite her strides, in the Summer of 2007, Mallory’s illness ramped back up to a critical level. Just 14 months after her first liver transplant, she needed another due to rejection. Mallory already received a second chance at life, now she needed a third. With some patience and prayer, Mallory’s new liver arrived.
For the years that followed, Mallory and her second liver, whom she named Izzy (a reference to the Grey’s Anatomy character of the same name), bounced between feeling completely normal and getting sick again. She was fighting one infection after another, and eventually, in November of 2010, she had to be admitted to the ICU again. After months of giving it everything she had and being an inspiration through it all, in January of 2011, she couldn’t fight any longer.
A New Purpose
Since Mallory passed away, the Smiths tell Mallory’s story as much as possible to promote organ donation, and they continue to share her legacy and humor. One of the quirks she was best known for was wearing “silly socks.” Since 2012, the Smiths began collecting different types of socks throughout the year with the intention to donate them in her honor each January, the month of her passing, to the Children’s Hospital where she spent so much of her time over the last 4 years of her life. To date, more than 18,000 pairs of socks have been given to the sick children receiving treatment.
Looking for more ways to continue her legacy, the Smiths partnered with GTF’s Academic Scholarship Program to sponsor a scholarship in Mallory’s name. Lisa recalls how Mallory received a GTF scholarship when she applied to college and said it was “an easy decision to have it come full circle through her own named scholarship.” Thus, the Mallory Smith Legacy Scholarship was born in 2012.
The Smiths’ family and friends come together to honor Mallory’s memory with donations to fund her scholarship and her parents fund any shortfalls to ensure that one lucky student is awarded the Mallory Smith Legacy Scholarship each year. Through various fundraisers, such as the highly successful “Mallory’s Walk,” the Smiths have raised over $137,000 for students in the transplant community.
Lisa is GTF’s Academic Scholarship committee, charged with awarding the Mallory Smith Scholarship in addition to eight others each year. Despite “wishing [she] could give it to everyone,” Lisa tries to make sure that Mallory’s scholarship is awarded to a liver transplant whenever possible. She also looks for students interested in studying within the medical field, just like Mallory was. Once a decision is made and the Mallory Smith Legacy Scholarship winner is decided for that year, Lisa contacts the recipient to wish them well and send them some “Team Mal” shirts and bracelets. For Lisa, “It’s just a little more personal than handing them their money and going on your way.” She wants them to know about the girl whose name their scholarship honors.
Despite feeling an affinity for all of the GTF Scholarship recipients, the winner of the 2023 Mallory Smith Legacy Scholarship sticks out to Lisa the most. In 2006, when Mallory was first admitted to the hospital at the beginning of her journey, the Smiths met the Clayton family, whose daughter also needed a liver transplant. 18 years later, after two liver transplants, full of hope for the future, that same little girl, Caroline, is the recipient of Mallory’s scholarship and is headed to college. “Knowing Mallory and her family, this scholarship has meant even more to me as I pursue my nursing degree,” says Caroline. That is exactly what the Smiths intended when they started the scholarship so many years ago. To pay it forward and help others who have been or are in the same shoes as their daughter once was.
Mallory’s legacy as a strong, caring, and funny young woman will forever be carried on through her silly socks, humor, resilience and scholarship.
The Mallory Smith Legacy Scholarship is one of several academic scholarships GTF offers. The deadline to apply for the program is May 1st, each year. To learn more about GTF’s Academic Scholarship Program and to apply, please visit https://gatransplant.org/our-programs/education-community-programs/academic-scholarships/#app-scholarship.
To learn more about Mallory’s transplant journey and how the Smiths are giving back, visit the Pay It Forward 17 Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/PayItForward17.