While many of us were observing Valentine’s Day with our sweethearts last Saturday, there was a particularly heartfelt, different kind of celebration going on at Prince Field in Miami Springs, and all on account of one very special little girl.
On that morning, a crowd of nearly 50 people gathered for a balloon release to celebrate not only love, but also a young life given a second chance thanks to organ donation. It was the one-year anniversary of little Makinley Edwards’ successful liver transplant.
The chilly, blustery weather did not deter friends, family and supporters from coming out for the cherubic 20-month-old who, in true toddler form, seemed blissfully unaware of the hullaballoo in her honor. Makinley ran and played throughout the park as bouquets of green helium-inflated balloons waved in the wind. Guests arrived in anticipation of their 11 a.m. release.
“Green is for liver cancer and organ donation,” explained Nicki Edwards, Makinley’s mother. “We wanted to do this as a way to say thanks to Makinley’s donor and to raise awareness for organ donation.”
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It’s been a harrowing roller coaster of a ride this past year and a half as Nicki and husband Mike have dealt with the crisis surrounding their daughter. Makinley was just 2 months old when she was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a form of pediatric liver cancer.
What followed was a whirlwind for the Edwards family, their lives thrust into a sudden frenzy of doctor visits, medical tests, and lots of questions. It was a foreign world to Nicki and Mike, third-generation Miami Springs residents who have always been healthy.
“She had many rounds of chemo,” explained Mike Edwards, Makinley’s father. “There were many failed surgeries to resect the tumor off the liver. In the end it was unsuccessful, with a lot of complications. By December 2013 she had already done four months of treatments. On Dec. 31 of that year, she was placed on the liver transplant list, and she was top priority. She was supposed to receive it within two or three days, but it ended up being about two months.”
The long wait and their desperation to save their daughter prompted the Edwardses to seek out alternatives to a deceased donor and began looking into living donors, starting with themselves. But they ran into a hitch.
“We were surprised to learn that organ donations from living donors are no longer done in Florida,” said Mike. “They quit doing them in South Florida because a while back there were lots of cadavers from people who had signed up for the organ donation program, so live donations weren’t needed. But the number of (registered deceased) donors has dropped off considerably in recent years.”
Mike attributes the reduction of deceased donors to a lack of public awareness.
“There is an organ donation program in Florida, but we just don’t hear about it,” Mike said. “Awareness is lacking in schools, churches and homes. It is still offered with the driver’s license registration, but there’s no education behind it.
“If a family is in the unfortunate situation of having a loved one on life support, you don’t want this to be the first time you discuss this. You want this to be something you’ve already talked about. If people have a conversation about the importance of organ donation, it wouldn’t be an out-of-the-ordinary thing during a time of stress.”
Without the option of a local live organ transfer, they went to the nearest place that does offer this procedure — Pittsburgh. Just as Mike and Makinley were cleared for the procedure, the call they had been waiting for came: a liver was available in Miami for Makinley!
The transplant took place successfully Feb. 14, 2014 at Jackson Memorial Hospital. While there have been a few bumps in the road and weekly doctor visits to stay on top of any recurrence, Makinley appears overall to be the picture of health.
Looking at her today, one would never guess the journey she has been on in her short life. By all observations, she is a typical, active toddler with rosy cheeks and an inquisitive nature. Makinley has all of this today thanks to an organ donor.
“We don’t know too many details about the donor,” said Mike. “It was a 4-year-old drowning victim in another part of the country. This one child saved at least nine others in the Southeast part of the U.S. There are families at their wit’s end right now waiting for that call.”
So it was for this young donor that, after a few words of thanks and a shared prayer, a bevy of green, dancing balloons were released into a picture-perfect blue Florida sky. And a little girl, just like any other, ran, played and ate a cupcake.
For more information about organ donation or to register to become a donor, visitwww.donatelifeflorida.org.