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Lisa Barker of Plano receives gift of life through Courtney Sterling
By Daniel Elizondo
Reid Barker of Plano could only pray to God for hours on end as he watched his wife Lisa suffer through illness in ICU for several days.

It was a trying time for the young couple that had just married two years prior to begin their life as husband and wife.

One moment, Lisa was preparing to enjoy a wedding party with friends in February 2014 when she felt ill. The next moment, Reid could only watch his wife suffer through pain and suffering with no answers after a routine surgery.

“All I remember is one minute I’m preparing for gall bladder surgery, and the next minute I literally woke up with a new liver,” Lisa said by phone.

Lisa and Reid were going to enjoy Superbowl Sunday on Feb. 2, 2014 when she didn’t feel well and began to complain of pain in her abdomen before it became swollen.

Unable to bear anymore pain, Lisa was rushed to a hospital ER in Plano when doctors diagnosed the symptoms to be gall bladder problems. They initially began to prepare for gall bladder removal, but they also shared the news that a sonogram also revealed a swollen spleen and liver.

During surgery of the gall bladder, doctors performed a biopsy of the liver, and later conducted several MRI’s and CT scans immediately following the removal of her gall bladder.

What doctors found was unthinkable in anyone’s world, much less for two newlyweds.

The doctor told Reid that Lisa was diagnosed with Budd-Chiari, a rare disorder that causes blood clotting of the veins to the liver, which affects one in a million people.

Doctors also told Reid that Lisa was in bad shape, and that a liver transplant was imminent.

The news was overwhelming to the family of Lisa and Reid, who all offered prayers for the right answers.

After her gall bladder surgery on Monday, Feb. 3, Lisa was induced into a coma and airlifted to a hospital in Dallas, where she was put on a liver transplant list as an 1A status patient, or a patient suffering from severe or onset liver failure that is capable of jumping to the top of the list.

The prayers by Reid, family and friends was helping, however, he knew that they were not out of muddy waters.

After a procedure performed on Lisa to help the blood flow from the liver with shunts, Reid received word that a liver had been found. It was the liver of a 15-year-old girl from Texas.

On Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, a liver transplant was performed on Lisa as her family waited and prayed for the best.

“It was a blessing to receive this gift, but it was difficult to wrap my head around it being a young girl,” Lisa said. “We prayed for her family, and we realized that it was meant for me.”

Lisa’s new liver was from Courtney Sterling of Lumberton, the young 15-year-old girl tragically killed in a vehicle crash along with her older sister Connely Burns on Feb. 3, 2014. Their mother Dawn Sterling was also in the vehicle and sustained critical injuries.

It was a difficult time for Michael Sterling, the father of Courtney. While facing the reality that he lost his two daughters and grandson-to-be, he was beside he wife, Dawn, who was in a coma in a hospital in Beaumont.

He made the hardest decisions as a father and husband, and one of them being to put Courtney’s organs up for donation.

“I was unconscious for months,” Dawn said. “Michael made those decisions on his own. And when I look back on it, he made the right decisions.”

When Dawn learned about the organ donations, and that Courtney’s liver was going to a 25-year-old female in the Dallas area, her initial reaction was that she didn’t want to know anything about it, or even hear it mentioned again.

“I was still trying to wrap my head around everything that happened,” Dawn said. “It was a difficult time to understand everything that was happening so fast.”

Lisa said six months after her transplant surgery, she was able to write a letter to the Sterling family via the Southwest Transplant Alliance, who delivered to Dawn and Michael.

As hard as it was for Dawn to read that letter, she eventually gave in, and from there, her outlook on everything changed.

Dawn said she wrote back, and the two exchanged phone numbers.

“A week after we exchanged phone numbers, I received a call from Lisa,” Dawn said. “I couldn’t get to the phone fast enough. I was so eager to talk to her.”

The two immediately made a connection, and it wasn’t too long after that the two met for the very first time in Dallas.

“The first meeting I will never forget,” Lisa said. “Dawn asked me if she could be the first to hold her baby girl. It was very difficult and special. It was an extremely long hug and lots of tears, and Dawn whispered to me that Courtney wanted this.”

Lisa said they drew an immediate connection that would never break. At that moment, they became Godchild and Godmother.

“As hard as that moment was for me, I had to remember that Christ died for us to live,” Lisa said. “Courtney was a believer, and she was selfless for what she offered. None of this would have happened without faith.”

Dawn said she recalls Courtney being curious about organ donation after she received her driving permit.

“She told me she couldn’t wait to turn 16 so she could be an organ donor,” Dawn said.

Because of Michael Sterlings decision, and Courtney’s selfless acts, Lisa along with four others have received organs from the young Sterling girl, and remain healthy to this day.

Bre, a young 18-year-old, received Courtney’s heart, and Dawn was able to attend her graduation in the Dallas area.

Also, a woman in her late 40’s and a male in his late 50’s also received organs from Courtney.

Coincidentally, all four of the five recipients are in the Dallas area.

“We have met the four of the five, and we found it weird that all four are within driving distance of each other,” Dawn said.

Lisa and her husband Reid have written a book titled “DeLIVERed: Lisa’s Story” on her journey through the transplant and to help raise awareness of organ donation and its importance. Both give their accounts of the journey with different perspectives.

Lisa is beginning to work as a dental hygienist and has had no complications from the transplant. However, she said she will remain under watchful eyes since her immune system is lower, and she will have to take anti-rejection medications for the remainder of her life.

She said her and her husband are building a strong relationship with the Sterlings, and she is beginning to find herself texting Dawn quite often.

“The other day, I went and bought a blouse, so I had to text Dawn,” Lisa said. “We are building a strong bond with one another.”

A tragic story to an inspiring story is how it was meant to be for the Barkers and Sterlings alike. A part of Courtney remains in different lives, and both Dawn and Michael continue to share the love of their daughter.

“We are stuck with Lisa and Reid for the duration,” Dawn said. “It’s more than just a friendship to Michael and I – it’s more of a feeling of love as with any child.”

The book by Lisa and Reid is available through Amazon or Kindle. Visit www.teambarkerdelivered.com for links and more on Lisa’s story.

Twitter: @dtelizondo


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