February 6, 2014
For 10 years, Jasmine Williams held on to a secret she was too scared to share.
But the eight-inch scar on her stomach had a story to tell.
It began at age 7 and carried her through trials that no child of that age should experience—excruciating pain, multiple surgeries, a stolen childhood. But there was no stopping Jasmine Williams—now an 18-year-old student on the Blinn College – Brenham campus—from conquering the trials of her childhood.
In the early evening hours in Opelousas, La., 7-year-old Williams ignored her grandmother’s request to cut out the horseplay on her bed.
“Stop playing around, you’re going to hurt yourself,” her grandmother told her.
As Williams continued to use her bunk bed as a jungle gym, jumping from the top bunk to the floor, a sharp pain shot across her stomach as she descended to the floor.
By the time she landed, her life was forever changed.
After the pain failed to subside, Williams’ mother rushed her to the emergency room. Upon their initial examination, Jasmine’s doctors didn’t see reason for serious concern, but as a precaution she was admitted to the hospital.
Her condition quickly deteriorated. The next day she began passing kidney stones. Soon her kidneys began to fail.
Jasmine was rushed to the Medical Center of Tulane, where she was diagnosed with hyperoxaluria with oxalosis type 1, a rare genetic disorder caused by a liver deficiency that in turn attacks the kidneys. Doctors determined she would need both liver and kidney transplants to survive.
“I was nervous, but because I had family around me, I wasn’t scared,” Williams said.
The fear resided with her family. Even though Williams was placed on a transplant list and transported to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, doctors warned her family there were still many miles on her road to recovery—a matching liver and kidney had to be found, and even if both became available, there was no guarantee that transplant surgery would save her life.
Williams was eager to break the day-to-day monotony of hospital life, which was far from her rambunctious days in Louisiana. Rather than playing in the front yard of her grandmother’s house, she was connected to machines that monitored her every heartbeat and breath; she endured dialysis sessions three hours a day, six days a week, because her kidneys could no longer filter the waste from her body on their own; she was surrounded by countless patients, some of whom became close friends, who suffered through complications with surgery or passed away.
“All I could think was, ‘I have to get out of here,’” Williams said.
Though she only attended school part-time, Jasmine kept her mind active by reading and solving math problems. It was a small amount of normalcy in her otherwise chaotic life.
Nine months later, Jasmine finally received word that two organs were found—and for the first time in more than a year, a wave of excitement consumed her.
“I was so happy,” Williams said. “It was exciting knowing the surgery was finally going to happen, because all I had been doing was dialysis, studying and sleeping. I would sleep so much.”
Though there were serious risks associated with the surgery—25 percent of transplant recipients live five years or less—Williams’ surgery was an early success, and three months later, she was released from the hospital and given the chance to live a life she nearly lost.
But that second chance didn’t come without its complications. Three times her body tried to reject her new organs. The worst came her first day of high school.
“High school is supposed to be this beautiful thing, but my first day I had to go into surgery, and I was in the hospital for a month,” Williams said. “I was so upset. I was upset at the world that I couldn’t enjoy anything without something happening.”
Though her frustrations ran rampant, it was another step in Williams’ recovery to a normal life. After the scare, Williams began to take more responsibility for her health. Even now, 10 years after surgery, she must take medication every 12 hours to prevent her body from rejecting the transplanted organs.
“I’ve had to grow up fast,” Williams said. “I didn’t have much of a childhood; I always had other responsibilities to take care of.”
Although she missed her chance at a childhood, Williams received an opportunity granted to few individuals. Last summer she was approached by Texas Children’s Hospital about the possibility of competing in the 19th annual World Transplant Games in Durban, South Africa.
Each year, thousands of transplant recipients from around the world are picked to compete at the games. Williams was one of seven members to represent Team USA and Texas Children’s Hospital. Once there, not only did she leave with a third-place medal in bowling, but she learned it was OK to accept herself.
“For the longest time I thought I wasn’t normal,” she said. “I have a big scar on my stomach and I have to take medications for the rest of my life. Being around and talking to the people there, they showed me that I am normal.”
With a new outlook, Williams has embraced her secret. Now, she has a story to share.