The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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May 4, 2013

Living proof that life's a gift

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — As a college athlete, Lea Sobieraski knew about odds and winning percentages. Just part of the game.

But when the “game” suddenly changed to life expectancy, it became a much more serious matter than playing for the Geneseo State College women’s basketball team.

Initially, the symptoms weren’t severe. Sobieraski had lost her appetite. But she became concerned when the problem persisted and sought a medical opinion.

The news wasn’t good. After rounds of testing, she was told she’d need a liver transplant.

With the onset of a rare genetic disorder called Wilson’s disease, Lea’s liver was destroyed, seemingly in a matter of months. The disease makes the body unable to flush out copper; the metal accumulates in vital organs instead, eventually causing physical symptoms including fatigue, bloating, loss of appetite, easy bruising and achy feet.

Pre-Christmas testing at Eastern Niagara Hospital led Lea to the first in a series of shocking discoveries, as the fit, trim, three-sport scholastic athlete was told that her liver looked cirrhotic, that is, “like a 60-year-old alcoholic’s liver.”

Wilson’s disease and the poor condition of her liver were confirmed by biopsy.

She was placed on a liver transplant waiting list. Some are fortunate and become a good match for a donated organ; others aren’t. Given her perilous condition, time wasn’t on her side.

Fortunately, Lea got the call from her liver specialist on March 2 indicating a match had become available, and she needed to get to Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester, N.Y., immediately to receive it.

The surgery was a success marred only by a couple of “minor” treatable complications, according to Lea.

Fifty days after the transplant, she said she was enjoyed feeling “normal” again, easing her way back into a workout routine and looking forward to getting back to Geneseo— and basketball — this fall.

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