“Liver buddies” for life: Niece saves her aunt’s life through organ donation


by Baylor Scott & White Health

Nov 17, 2022

As aunt and niece, Demaris and Brittney have always had a special bond. For them, family is everything. So, when Brittney found out that Demaris needed a new liver, she didn’t hesitate to offer hers.

Now self-described “liver buddies,” the two are closer than ever. This is their story of hope, healing and never giving up on the ones you love.

15 months to live

When Demaris suddenly started feeling tired all the time, had swelling in her feet and felt like her stomach was getting bigger and bigger, she initially brushed it off. Surely it was because she hadn’t been exercising or eating well lately.

A few months later, she decided to see her primary care physician because the swelling just wouldn’t go down. Concerned, her doctor helped refer her to a digestive specialist and a liver specialist for further testing.

Tests revealed a shocking diagnosis—she had liver cancer. With hepatocellular carcinoma and liver cirrhosis, her liver was functioning at only 15%.

Due to the size of the tumor, doctors told her nothing could be done for the cancer. They estimated she had about 15 months to live. One of her oncologists suggested hospice.

“That felt like a death sentence,” Demaris said. “When he told me I had 15 months, my mind just left my body. I was in another zone. I heard him but I didn’t really hear him. I sat there for a while before I managed to get up and walk out.”

The diagnosis was devastating, but Demaris didn’t give up. Neither did her doctors, transplant hepatologist Sumeet Asrani, MD, and oncologist Binu Nair, MD. They decided to take a chance and give her chemotherapy in hopes it would kill enough of the cancer cells. Thankfully, it did.

“Dr. Asrani and Dr. Nair never gave up on me,” she said. “They kept trying to find ways to treat this tumor. I thank God for them.”

A niece’s lifesaving decision

Demaris still needed a new liver, though, and quickly. Many members of her close-knit family signed up as potential donors, but it was her niece Brittney who made the perfect match.liver-buddies-text-1.jpg    

“I prayed about it and prayed about it and prayed about it, and I knew I was going to be the match,” she said.

That’s a decision that her aunt will never take for granted.

“I am eternally grateful to her for giving me a second chance at life,” Demaris said. “I’m so grateful to God, to Brittney, to the entire team for not giving up on me.”

They met up at the hospital on the day of the transplant, excited, scared and trusting that God would guide their surgeons’ hands. Performed by Johanna Bayer, MD, and Amar Gupta, MD, the transplant was a success. The recovery wasn’t always easy, and Demaris and Brittney were thankful they had each other to lean on every step of the way.

Today, Demaris is healthy and grateful for the strength she’s found in her family—especially her niece. Her diagnosis and transplant have given her a new perspective on life and love.

“I have learned to look at life differently,” Demaris said. “I appreciate life a whole lot more than I did before. I just want to live my life, be happy, continue to do right by people and love people.”

Demaris is passionate about sharing her story to give hope to others facing a difficult diagnosis and to bring awareness to the need for organ donors.

Brittney’s takeaway from the donor experience is simple: being an organ donor is saving a life.

“I’d do it all over again if I had to,” she said.

You, too, could save a life. Learn more about living donor transplants today.

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