Terri Lynn Willis
Terri Lynne Willis was born with Tyrosinemia, a disease that prevents the body from breaking down tyrosine, an amino acid commonly found in chicken, turkey, fish, milk, cheese, and other common foods. The disease was inconvenient for Terri as a child, but her worries never went beyond the fact that she had to “basically live like a vegetarian.” That changed when she was told that kids with Tyrosinemia were developing Liver Cancer and that she was at risk. Sure enough, she had cancer.
To survive the cancer, Terri would need a liver transplant. She was evaluated and placed on the transplant list, where she waited for six months. While out for lunch, Terri received word that her liver was ready. At just 13, Terri became one of Georgia’s first pediatric liver transplant patients.
Life following her transplant was no walk in the park. At just 15, she developed large fibroids in her breast that had to be removed. She experienced rejection in 2015, and in 2018, she dealt with a fungal infection called cryptococcus that required her to be hospitalized on numerous occasions and endure lung surgery.
Despite all these setbacks, Terri continues to live her life the way she wants to. Having gotten into running as an adult, Terri hit little milestones as she ramped up her physical activity. From celebrating her first mile to completing a marathon, Terri continues to defy the odds.
Terri still must visit her transplant clinic often for ongoing care and has developed tight bonds with the workers she sees on a regular basis. One of these relationships was with a doctor who helped treat her fungal infection in 2018. She inspired Terri to maintain her sense of humor even in the face of illness and helped increase her positivity. Even the surgeon who performed Terri’s transplant decades ago comes to see her when she is in the hospital.
Terri reflects on her donor, an 11-year-old girl, every day. “I don’t know her name or anything about her,” she recalls, “But her parents, or mom, in the grief of losing their child, thought about saving another child. That says a lot.” Terri is incredibly grateful for the sacrifice of her donor, as it gave her a chance to live her life, to meet her nieces and nephews, and to experience the world.
Throughout her transplant journey, Terri has been helped by GTF in numerous ways. Terri says GTF helped pay for her much-needed anti-rejection drugs via the medication assistance program. She shared, “GTF has always been there when I needed them. I can’t thank them enough.” Now, Terri needs a kidney transplant, and GTF’s dental assistance program has helped her to get her teeth healthy enough to be approved for transplant.
Terri remains a beacon of hope and positivity for the transplant community, as well as a living embodiment of how vital organ transplant is.