Happily ever after: Couple ties the knot after lifesaving liver transplant
When Brandi and Pete fell in love, he was healthy—but liver disease was slowly taking its toll. Brandi knew in her heart it was her destiny to save his life by donating her liver. This is their love story, in their words.
Pete: The diagnosis
I learned I had liver disease about six years before I met Brandi. I was feeling totally fine, but during routine gall bladder surgery, doctors told me my liver numbers were high. My gastroenterologist in Amarillo did a series of blood tests and was shocked by the results. He sent me to a specialist in Dallas, where I was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis and primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC).
I learned that PBC is a chronic disease that affects the small bile ducts. As the disease progresses, the liver becomes inflamed, injured and eventually destroyed. The diagnosis was a total surprise because I was in the best shape of my life and didn’t feel bad at all, so it was really hard for me to believe. I started taking some medications, but nothing really helped.
I eventually made an appointment with a transplant hepatologist from Baylor Scott & White Health who has a liver outreach clinic in Amarillo every month. Dr. Mohammad Ashfaq started me on a similar course of medications and tried some different therapies, but still, nothing seemed to work.
I would eventually need a liver transplant. It seemed crazy to me that I would have to go through that someday.
My marriage ended in December 2018 and for the first time, I felt uncertain about my future. Although I was in great shape and feeling pretty good, my liver numbers continued to climb. During this time, I was hesitant about any sort of serious long-term relationship because my health was so uncertain and I didn’t want to bring anyone into that kind of mess.
And then I met Brandi.
Brandi: A chance meeting
When my own marriage ended in early 2019, before I ever met Pete, I found myself telling God countless times, “I know you have a big purpose in my life, and I trust this process. I will follow whatever path is in front of me. Just give me peace with it.”
I was broken in the worst way due to a broken marriage and raising two young children. Then, during COVID-19 in May of 2020, I met Pete randomly on a rooftop patio in Amarillo where I had joined a group of my girlfriends for an open-air get-together.
We had this undeniable connection from the moment we met. We started dating, and within a few weeks, Pete told me about his liver disease and explained that autoimmune hepatitis and PBC are incurable. However, he hoped to maintain his health, just like he had for the past several years. He wanted to be honest with me in case I didn’t want to stay. He seemed perfectly healthy, and he was HOT, so I didn’t care. Plus, I knew he was different, and I was willing to walk this road with him.
Fast forward to October 2020 when the reality of his health hit home. He started itching, his bilirubin numbers spiked (which typically indicates increasing liver problems) and he developed sores. He had to be hospitalized. During one of my visits, with a tear rolling down his face, Pete told me things weren’t looking good and if I needed to leave him, he would understand. That broke my heart.
When I went home that night, I started researching. I needed to know more about his disease, what it meant for our future and what liver transplantation was all about.
That’s when I discovered living liver donation was a thing. This peace came over me. Maybe God put me in Pete’s life for this purpose. Maybe I could be a living donor for Pete?
Pete: Learning to trust
When Brandi told me what she had learned about living donor transplants, I really struggled with the thought of putting someone through that for me. It was a hopeful consideration, just not from Brandi.
I told her, “No way. That’s not an option for me.” I didn’t want her taking any risks for herself or her two young kids. Then my health took a huge hit when I got COVID-19. It was brutal. I lost 19 pounds in two weeks. I didn’t look like the same person. It was a struggle to function every single day.
That’s when I went through a transplant evaluation at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and qualified to be listed for a liver transplant. At Brandi’s urging, I asked about living donor liver transplant and that’s the path they encouraged me to pursue, especially since my ranking on the liver transplant waiting list wasn’t very high.
I was humbled knowing people had applied to help me. It was a gift that I would never have asked for but desperately needed. When Brandi told me she was proceeding with her donor evaluation, my first thought was, “I can’t let her do this. She has kids and I can’t let anything happen to her.”
She told me I needed to trust her. She’d been telling me for several weeks that I was going to get her liver someday. It’s almost like she had this intuition or something. I still had it in my head that she wouldn’t be a match for me. But I needed to let her follow her heart.
Brandi: “I’ve got something for you”
In early 2021, I applied to be a living organ donor on the Baylor Scott & White website. At first, I didn’t tell Pete, but my teenage children were totally on board. In that moment, I realized my intuition might be right—this was my purpose and God was giving me the peace I asked for.
I was soon okayed to proceed with an evaluation to become a living liver donor. Pete was elated, I’m sure, but he also felt a lot of guilt and hesitation thinking about me and my kids. I told him that I had peace with my decision, and I trusted the path being laid in front of me. I reminded him of his children, parents, siblings and all the others that loved him deeply and weren’t ready to lose him to this horrible liver disease.
Pete’s birthday was five days after my living donor evaluation. Late that afternoon, I received a call from my living donor coordinator, Lana Casica, RN, who happily conveyed the good news that I had a great liver and was cleared to donate a large portion of it to my boyfriend.
I was so excited and so were my kids. At dinner that night, I presented Pete with a card that said in bold letters, “I’ve got something for you. How about I give you my liver, or we can share one at least?”
Pete: Feeling brand new
I was in shock. I was prepared to take this journey alone and figure it out—but Brandi was prepared to save my life. All I could do was thank her and give her a big hug. Everyone who heard the news that she could be my living donor was crying and laughing. It was so powerful.
The liver transplant surgery was scheduled for April 26. By that time, I was in really bad shape and didn’t look like myself at all. I wasn’t nervous. I was just ready to wake up and know I would no longer have a diseased liver.
We had the best team of doctors looking over us and I was so confident everything would be okay. Brandi’s family and mine were together in the waiting room as they awaited updates. She got out of surgery first. My surgery was finished a few hours later. The next day I walked to Brandi’s room. She said I walked in like Superman. I felt brand new.
Our life has been nothing short of a blessing every day. We are both so thankful for Dr. Testa, Dr. Martinez, Dr. Gupta, Dr. Lee and the countless others who had a part in saving my life and keeping Brandi safe during her operation which has given us the life we have today. We are so happy and give all the glory to God for showing mercy and grace to us.
Brandi: Happily ever after
I was released from the hospital five days after the surgery. I walked to the hospital every day to visit Pete and regain my strength. Less than two weeks after donating part of my liver, I returned home to Amarillo and my children. Pete spent more time in the hospital due to an infection that delayed his discharge, but as he says, the surgery and recovery were nothing compared to getting his life back.
Our relationship struggled when he returned home to Amarillo because he felt like he ‘owed me.’ I didn’t expect that. I always said I didn’t want anything in return. Finally, I asked him, “Can I repay you for being good to my kids? That’s the best gift I could ask for and you’re doing that for me.” In that moment, he realized he had to let it go.
Six months after the surgery, Pete proposed to me. We were married on January 1, 2022. Doing this life with Pete has been the easiest and best decision of my life. I believe people are put in our life for a reason, and I’m so thankful I trusted the path God laid in front of me. I will never stop believing in the miracles of God, as we are a perfect example of His grace and mercy.
Living donors save lives. Learn more about living organ donation today.
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