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Krista Lesinski (now Jankowski) was 22 years old and living in New York City when she became extremely sick. She had experienced some strange symptoms including headaches and fatigue in the months before she fell seriously ill, but she didn’t realize that they were all connected. “I didn’t take the symptoms very seriously. I thought I was just hypoglycemic,” Krista explained.

She waited a few days but didn’t recover, and so she checked herself into Nassau University Medical Center. Doctors were alarmed with her jaundiced appearance and symptoms and she was admitted to intensive care. Tests showed that her liver was failing, but the cause was unclear. Krista said that nine or ten doctors with different specialties worked to figure out what was wrong with her. Meanwhile, her condition was getting worse.

Krista had Wilson’s disease, a rare disease that causes copper to accumulate in the body. Usually, the human body is able to get rid of excess copper. In Wilson’s disease, a genetic mutation prevents the liver from filtering out copper correctly and the copper builds up instead. This copper can accumulate in the liver, brain and other areas and can cause organ damage.  

Days after she had arrived in the hospital, doctors were able to match the symptoms to Krista’s unusual disease. They were able to help confirm the diagnosis, Krista recalls, through an eye exam: the built up copper was visible in a ring around the edge of her irises. 

Krista and her husband Eric

Within hours of her diagnosis, Krista was listed as a status one liver recipient. She underwent a transplant at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on February 27, 2007. The reality of what had occurred didn’t really sink in until about a month later. “I was on a lot of medications before and after the surgery,” she explained. “I was totally out of it when the transplant happened.”

Within hours of her diagnosis, Krista was listed as a status one liver recipient. She underwent a transplant at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on February 27, 2007. The reality of what had occurred didn’t really sink in until about a month later. “I was on a lot of medications before and after the surgery,” she explained. “I was totally out of it when the transplant happened.”

Krista spent ten weeks in the hospital after her transplant surgery. Her kidneys had stopped functioning due to the high levels of copper in her blood; she was on dialysis for about five weeks before her kidneys recovered. She also needed plasmapheresis (a process through which blood is removed, treated and then returned to the body) in order to help clear excess copper from her bloodstream.

“I spent the last two weeks of my hospital stay in physical therapy,” she added. “I had lost a lot of weight and I was very weak from lying in a bed all day for over two months. It took another three to four months for me to fully recover and feel like I was back to normal again.”

While Krista was in the hospital, she met another woman with Wilson’s disease who had received a liver transplant two years beforehand. “Meeting her and being able to talk to her made it a lot easier to go through the whole process,” Krista said.

Krista doesn’t know much about the woman who was her donor, just her first name and the fact that she was 21 at the time of her death. Krista received a letter once from the donor’s grandmother, but hasn’t heard back since. Though Krista doesn’t know who her donor was, she is thankful.

Thank you. It’s not an easy thing to decide to do, but I am extremely grateful that you decided to be an organ donor. This whole experience really opened my eyes to how organ donation can help others.

If she had a chance to talk to donor whose liver saved her life, Krista would say, “Thank you. It’s not an easy thing to decide to do, but I am extremely grateful that you decided to be an organ donor. This whole experience really opened my eyes to how organ donation can help others.”

After she recovered, Krista volunteered with a transplant organization in the New York City area. “If you can get at least one person to register as an organ donor, it’s worth it,” she said. Krista visited high schools to help educate students about the importance of organ donation. “I wanted to make sure that students were better educated about organ donation than I was. I don’t think I knew enough about organ donation, and that’s why I was hesitant to register.”

Krista volunteered there for about a year before she moved back to Western New York. At home, she became involved with Unyts, helping with blood drives and continued speaking at local schools. Krista’s experience inspired Eric, the man who is now her husband, to start volunteering with Unyts as well.

Krista volunteered there for about a year before she moved back to Western New York. At home, she became involved with Unyts, helping with blood drives and continued speaking at local schools. Krista’s experience inspired Eric, the man who is now her husband, to start volunteering with Unyts as well.

Krista’s story has been featured in medical mysteries books and television programs, and she’s shared it with other audiences as well. Asked if she thought it was strange to have so many people know her medical history, Krista said that she is glad if it can help educate others about Wilson’s disease and the importance of organ donation.

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