A college student met her liver donor who heard about her case on social media and came froward to save her life.
Madison Ricci, 19, and Jaelin Highsmith, 22, underwent a liver transplant surgery in December that took a total of more than 20 hours.
Ricci met Highsmith finally when he surprised her live on GMA at her family’s home in Hamden, Conn.
“I’m speechless,” said Ricci, who just had two words for Highsmith: “Thank you.”
“Unreal. That’s the best way to describe it,” Highsmith said of their first meeting. “It’s been a long time in the making.”
Ricci was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease, seven years ago at age 12.
The University of Tampa’s students health deteriorated last year and doctors told her family that the best solution for her was to find a liver donor who would give her a piece of their liver.
Even though she was already on the liver transplant list, things were not moving the way it should have.
After the initial hiccups and struggle, they finally found a donor, Highsmith, who volunteered to be her donor after one of his best friends, known to the Ricci’s, sent out a text asking for help in finding her a donor.
With just 5-10% chance of being a match for Ricci, after over four months of testing, he was determined by doctors at Yale-New Haven Hospital to be a match.
“The bottom line was the opportunity as there and there’s no way I could pass it up,” he said. “I knew from day one if I was able to do this, I would do it.”
Highsmith and Ricci began to text each other after the surgery and have stayed in touch via texts and social media before they were able to meet in person.
“Maddie and Jae have so many similarities, it’s just amazing to us,” said Ricci’s mom, Kristine Ricci. “We are forever grateful for Jaelin and his entire family as they are all now part of ours.”
Highsmith not only donated his liver to Ricci but also helped them raise money for her ongoing medical treatment. “The connection and the love that we share between us all is just amazing,” Kristine Ricci said.