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A Valentine's Day Liver Transplant: Kennesaw Recipient, Donor Reflect On Surgery One Year Later

COBB COUNTY, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) -- This Valentine's Day will be a special anniversary for a transplant recipient. Kennesaw resident James Simmons was on the waiting list for a liver transplant for months, but a different approach helped a donor find him.

Simmons remembers the day doctors told him he would need a liver transplant. "I was kind of just going through the motions. I was still in shock," he said, also recalling what led to his two-month hospital stay before the diagnosis. "I woke up and my skin was yellow, the whites of my eyes were yellow."

He was put near the bottom of a transplant list in August 2017. A year and a half later, a Facebook post led to the Valentine's Day surgery that saved his life. "It was my mom's idea actually, and I resisted it at first," said Simmons, regarding the decision to post about his search for a donor on social media.

Local wife and mom Anna Thompson saw the post on a mutual friend's page. "First thing, I noticed that we had the same blood type," she said. It reminded her of her oldest son Lake, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 at  five years old and passed away three years later. The challenge of finding a bone marrow match for lake came to mind. "I just started reading her posts, and the desperation in her voice and just how she wanted to help her son," Thompson said.

After months of testing, she found out she was a match. They planned to meet in person and made yet another discovery. "When I sent them my address, his dad sent back and was like, we live .4 miles from you. We live right around the corner," said Thompson.

They had successful surgeries on Valentine's Day in 2020. The day came just before the pandemic, four days before Thompson's 40th birthday and a couple of months after James had turned 22 years old. "Every year, it will just always be a special day," said Thompson.

It's a day that will always hold special meaning for Simmons, long after he completes his bachelor's and master's degrees at Mercer University in 2022. "It's a huge day, and I think it's something we're gonna celebrate together for a while," said Simmons, regarding the anniversary of the surgery. They plan to visit each other in person on Valentine's Day.

"Just hoping to give people that have been through something really difficult, like the loss of a child, the hope that there is purpose in your pain," said Thompson.

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