Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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April 26, 2013

Living proof that life's a gift

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — You’re never too young, or old, to consider organ donation. Take it from Lea Sobieraski.

The 21-year-old college student from Lockport got a new lease on life seven weeks ago, when she received a liver transplant.

With the onset of a rare genetic disorder called Wilson’s disease, Lea’s liver was destroyed, seemingly in a matter of months. The disease makes the body unable to flush out copper; the metal accumulates in vital organs instead, eventually causing physical symptoms including fatigue, bloating, loss of appetite, easy bruising and achy feet.

When those symptoms started surfacing around Thanksgiving time, Lea brushed them off and kept her commitments to study and the girls’ basketball team at Geneseo State College. When she consistently couldn’t stand to eat more than a few bites of a meal, however, she knew something was seriously wrong.

Pre-Christmas testing at Eastern Niagara Hospital led Lea to the first in a series of shocking discoveries, as the fit, trim, three-sport scholastic athlete was told that her liver looked cirrhotic, that is, “like a 60-year-old alcoholic’s liver.”

Wilson’s disease and the poor condition of her liver were confirmed by biopsy.

Onto the New York State organ transplant waiting list Lea went, immediately, then stayed for a period that some in the medical community view as unacceptably lengthy. Moved by the rapid progression of her illness, Lea’s dad Mike Sobieraski, the principal of Anna Merritt Elementary School, underwent physical and psychological preparation to be a live, partial liver donor if needed.

In fact Lea was “only” on the transplant list for two months, but it’s also a fact that she basically had to be at death’s door in order to get to the top of the list, where she’d have dibs on the next available organ from a donor with her blood type and body size.

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