Latter-day Saint Life

‘Miracle Mamas’: How one Latter-day Saint woman’s liver saved her daughter’s best friend’s mother’s life

Tami and her mother, Diane, are photographed together after the successful liver transplant.
Courtesy of Tami Hewlett

Jenny Thompson was lost in the middle of her own grief when a single word gave her hope of giving some purpose to the pain she and her family were experiencing. Her mother, Jeannie, had suffered a catastrophic hemorrhagic stroke at 12:45 a.m., and as she and her siblings met with a neurologist less than five hours later and listened to his preliminary test findings, she knew that her mom’s life would soon come to an end. Outside of understanding what lay ahead, Jenny hardly understood a word of what was being said until she heard a single word: Liver.

For nearly a month, Jenny had been praying and fasting for her friend Tami’s mother, Diane, who since January 25 had been in the hospital in need of a liver transplant—a liver transplant they didn’t expect she would receive before passing. In fact, Jenny and Tami had been together the day before, and the two friends were in tears as Tami provided an update on her mom’s health.

So, when Jenny heard that single mention of “liver,” chills went down her spine.

At 5:45 a.m. Jenny sent a text to Tami and said, “I have no idea how these things work but if I can at all request my mom’s liver (if her liver qualifies) to go to your mom, we are waiting to talk to the transplant team.”

As she shared her idea with family and friends, including her daughter who is a trauma nurse, Jenny was told that “it just doesn’t work like that.” They couldn’t explain why, but it just seemed that something like that would be far more complicated, and they didn’t want Jenny to get her hopes up.

But Jenny has always been a persistent person and felt strongly that if she knew anything about her mother, this was something she would’ve wanted.

“My mom was in service to anyone, all the time. She was just that kind of person. When she passed, she had 13 women that she was ministering to. She is a very service-oriented person, so of course on her deathbed she’s going to serve. And I’m sure that because she was such a saint, Heavenly Father said, ‘Have a seat, you’re going to choreograph this with me.’”

It was for this reason that Jenny said, “I need to talk to the donor team.”

Even still, while she was hopeful, her approach was simply that “it doesn’t hurt to ask.” So, she asked and braced herself for their answer. “To my surprise, the reply came swiftly—an ‘Absolutely, yes!’ Not only yes, but this person would be at the top of the list and become priority.”

To begin the process, Jenny needed some information on Tami’s mother, Diane. At first, that information was easy enough to provide as she called Tami and got Diane’s full name, birthday, and blood type. But then she asked Tami a question that was not so easy to answer: “Is Diane on the transplant list?”

Tami instantly felt like she might have reached her breaking point. She had been doing all she could for weeks to get her mom on the transplant list. She knew her mom was very close, but she also knew she still wasn’t on it. So Tami immediately made a call to the financial coordinator she had been working with in the transplant office and was told that her insurance had not yet given approval. So while everything else was good to go, Diane’s name wasn’t on there. “I need her on the list,” Tami said, explaining their situation.

Five minutes later, the woman called back and said they were 95 percent sure that her insurance would cover it and the hospital was willing to take that risk.

After a liver biopsy that looked favorable, Jeannie was prepped to go into surgery at 4:00 p.m. Jenny and Tami were told that in the case of donors over 70 years old, there’s typically only one organ that is considered for donation after death: the liver. And the only way they can take the liver and donate it is if the death was a brain death. So Jeannie’s liver checked all of the boxes.

Tami and Jenny smile for a photo together outside the hospital.
Courtesy of Tami Hewlett

Jenny and Tami couldn’t deny that they were witnessing miracles, but they were encouraged to remain cautiously optimistic. One of the doctors told them he had been doing this for more than 30 years and he had never seen anything like this happen because everything would have to line up perfectly on both sides for the match to be viable.

But the next thing they knew, Diane was being prepped for operation, and the Donor Connect SUV carrying Jeannie’s liver was en route to Diane’s hospital. “It’s a beautiful, healthy liver,” Diane’s doctor told her family. “We’re going into surgery.”

“We just kept waiting for all these hoops and all these obstacles,” Tami explained, “and they didn’t come.”

A sketch of Jeannie Poch.
Courtesy of Tami Hewlett

Hours later, Jeannie’s liver had given Diane a new lease on life.

“To this day, to this moment, it is the most extraordinary thing that I have ever witnessed,” Jenny says.

Diane’s message to Jenny is one of the utmost gratitude, “I am so thankful for Jenny thinking of me during her sadness with her mother dying. She certainly is the reason I am alive today.”

To the two women, it is a testament to the reality of miracles.

“President Nelson has asked us to ‘expect miracles,’ and I expected miracles that day,” Jenny says. “Although my biggest hope was the miracle of my mother pulling through, it didn’t happen. However, I’m a believer in doing our part, turning the rest over to Heavenly Father, and trusting in His plan for us. What happened over the next 24 hours was more like walking hand in hand with Jesus Christ, witnessing His miracles left and right. What was orchestrated on the other side was nothing short of mind-blowing, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.

“I’ve always had faith my Heavenly Father and Savior loved me, but this felt personal; this journey assured me beyond any doubt!”

Tami agrees—what they experienced that day as one of their mothers slipped quietly from this life to the next, and the other was given more time here on earth, was without a doubt a miracle.

“You can’t hear the story and not believe that it’s a miracle. This is a miracle, and this is why we really want to get the story out is to give people the hope that miracles still exist. We read in the scriptures of all these amazing miracles, but we need to really be aware of these modern-day miracles that are happening around us. This was not a coincidence. … This was a real miracle. This stuff just doesn’t happen,” Tami says.

Outside of the spiritual message they hope to communicate, they also hope to help educate others about organ donations and advocacy.

What the two friends wanted to have happen seemed impossible, but they simply had to “explore the possibility of the pretty much impossible,” as Tami puts it. Tami learned that people in health crisis need an advocate—her mother needed an advocate.

“People need advocates in the hospital. That first hospital was just going to send her home on hospice,” Tami recalls. “Don’t just settle for ‘OK, we’ll just take her home.’ You can believe that there could be a miracle, and you need to take the steps to facilitate that miracle.”

Tami and Jenny are aware that not everyone’s organ donation comes right on time as it did for their moms, but doing our part to “facilitate” miracles and expect them is crucial.

Jenny has become a huge proponent of organ donation and the ability it has to do good in the world. But she emphasizes that in order to meet a need, we first have to know that the need exists.

“If you need an organ, get your story out there,” Jenny says, explaining that if she, or someone she loved, was in need of an organ, she would do all within her power to make sure that their story was shared far and wide. “In case the unfortunate event happens where somebody does lose somebody immediately, and they are forced with that choice, they think of me. That would be my hope.

“Miracles like this are very rare. They don’t happen [often]. And it’s a lot to ask people to have the hope if they need an organ, but I would say expect miracles. Just do it. Make it happen.”

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