CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nefeterius McPherson can never forget she's alive because Taitlyn Hughes died -- and the 39-year-old organ transplant survivor does not want to forget.
"It's one thing to say organ donations save lives," McPherson told a group of Charleston Area Medical Center staff members and specially invited guests Friday at a luncheon to stress the importance of donating organs. "It's another thing to say Taitlyn saved Nefeterius' life."
McPherson, a former athlete and fifth-generation Texan, had never been sick until November 2004, when she got excruciating abdominal pains after eating some ham.
In her first year of law school and of an analytical mind, she naturally deduced the ham had made her sick, and quit eating ham. More and more foods started making her sick and were purged from her diet.
"Sometime in January , all I was eating was chicken broth," McPherson said. "Then, the chicken broth made me sick."
Soon, McPherson had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. Clearly, something more serious was wrong.
McPherson finally got a correct diagnosis in June 2005, when she found out she had a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts.
Surgery to remove diseased portions of bile duct helped for a while, but McPherson soon found herself in the hospital more and more often. By April 2011, she was hospitalized so frequently that her doctors said, if she got sick one more time, she would need a liver transplant.
McPherson was placed on the transplant list that May. There she remained for 172 days.
A couple of times, she came close to getting a new liver, but both chances fell through.
On Nov. 6, 2011, she got a call to get ready for possible surgery. It was the same morning that Taitlyn Hughes of Martinsburg woke up with a terrible headache.
Hughes had a brain hemorrhage, and she was rushed to the hospital. Hughes had expressed her wish to be an organ donor, and McPherson was told to stand by in case Hughes died and her liver could be harvested.
Already wracked with competing emotions at the knowledge that someone might have to die for her to live, McPherson felt both hopeful for her own future and sad for the family of the potential donor.
Then, through a slip of a doctor's tongue, she discovered her donor was only a child.
"How am I supposed to be happy for my gift of life now?" McPherson said. "I didn't think, 'Today I get my transplant.' I thought, 'Oh my God, that family just lost their child! That family just lost their child!'"
Taitlyn Hughes was only 12 years old when she died. When she was 11, she told her parents she wanted to be an organ donor, and they honored her wishes. Four people received organs from her body.