A Christmas miracle
Renton Reporter Staff writer
Today, 10:10 AM
Five years ago Jovoni Jones barely left his house. Suffering from autoimmune hepatitis since the age of 7, Jones had finally progressed to a critical state by age 16.
An active swimmer, his life was reduced to playing video games in bed and sleeping most of the time.
But this was before the Christmas miracle that gave him a new liver and a new life. What can he do now that he couldn't do before?
"Leave my house for starters," he said chuckling.
Now the Renton resident and 21-year-old is a freshman at the Art Institute of Seattle, studying video game art design.
He can swim for the full two hours at the pool; he enjoys playing basketball and walking the family dog.
His story is a testament to the bittersweet story of organ donation. Currently, there are more than 100,000 people on the national list waiting for a transplant of some type.
LifeCenter Northwest is an organ and tissue program that services Alaska, Montana, North Idaho and Washington.
Every year LifeCenter Northwest sponsors two awareness campaigns to encourage people to sign up to be donors. One is the "Donate Life Month" in April and the other kicks off in November as their "Season of Giving" campaign and runs through December.
To those on a transplant waiting list Jones said "just don't give up hope, cause if I did I don't think I'd be here right now."
And he almost wasn't here.
Jones' health declined in middle school and he was put on the list at age 14. When Jones was in the hospital five years ago at 16, he weighed just 79 pounds.
Leading up to this, he was an active kid. He would go swimming everyday if he could, his mother Janis Jones-Thomas said. She watched him go from swimming the whole free swim session to just 45 minutes and then down to just 15 minutes.
"And so you watch that as a parent and it hurts your heart, but you know that one day you're hoping that it's going to get better," Jones-Thomas said.
For Jones, he would get worse before he got better. After getting on the transplant list in October 2004, he got his first call for a liver around March 2005. He went to Children's Hospital and Medical Center, went through the preparation process and it wasn't until midnight staff came in and said the liver was not a good fit for him.
Jones-Thomas said her heart sank, along with her husband's, Kevin Thomas. Jones' grandmother, Gertrude Jones, kept spirits hopeful, telling her daughter "'Well, you know it will happen, don't get upset, it'll happen,'"she said.
It almost happened a second time when Jones was in the hospital around the first week of December 2005, but that liver was not a good fit either. At this point everyone was devastated. At his lowest point, Jones revealed to his mom that he had asked God for a new liver for Christmas. Of all the things he could have asked for, his wish broke her heart, she said. So, they called up all the family, pastors and friends they knew and told them they needed this to happen.
Then on Dec. 23 Jones almost died. It appeared to his parents that he was having some sort of complications and he was bleeding out. It took a room full of doctors and nurses to stabilize him.
"And so they were like 'He needs a liver now, if he doesn't get a liver he's not going to live,'" Jones-Thomas said.
On Dec. 24 the family was notified that another liver was available for Jones but having been disappointed twice before, Jones' mother did not get excited. They didn't tell Jones his prayer was answered until they wheeled him out to surgery at 10 a.m. on Christmas Day.
So, what has this experience taught the family?
"To never doubt, you know a lot of times we'll ask for something – say you pray and you just believe something's gonna happen and it doesn't happen," she said. "Then you're like see I knew it wasn't going to happen. You can't be like that."
Jones-Thomas said the experience made her faith change and grow 50 times stronger than it was before. Jones' ordeal happened when the family was living in Seattle; they moved to Renton in 2005. They moved six months before his transplant.
Jones doesn't remember much of that December being intubated and in and out of consciousness, but he does remember the morning he heard the news.
"I just felt great about it, to be honest," he said.
He was in the hospital for two months total; he spent one of those months recovering and trying to gain weight for his release.
What was a miracle for Jones was a goodbye for the donor's family. Jones and his family didn't meet them until last June. LifeCenter Northwest coordinated their meeting and both took part in an educational video to help register donors.
Lauren was the name of the young woman who became Jones' donor after she lost her life. For privacy, LifeCenter Northwest guards the details of its donors.
"As a mother for Lauren, and as a mother in general, knowing that you can give life to someone and not have that other person, that mother go through the pain I went through, that's the greatest gift to me," said the donor's mother in the video.
To pay it forward, Jones and his mother speak out about organ and tissue donation whenever they are asked. So far they've been to Cleveland High School and Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle.
And at five years out from his transplant, Jones is healthy.
"According to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, about 84 percent of patients who receive a liver transplant at age 12-17 are alive and well five years after the transplant," said Kevin O'Connor, CEO of LifeCenter Northwest. "Jovoni's story, and his successful outcome at five years, speaks to the incredible life-saving impact of organ donation and transplantation."