Paying Attention to the signals: 23-year-old SCV resident searching for liver-transplant donor

Jessica Meza, 23, was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis and is currently searching for a liver donor. Dan Watson/The Signal
A student, employee, daughter and friend, SCV resident Jessica Meza believed her fatigue, bloody noses and bruising were normal throughout her life; but today, at 23, she is now on the liver transplant list and diagnosed with a rare disease. “Apparently, I had signals throughout life, but I thought it was from the heat,” she said. “Everyone says they’re tired, so I thought the fatigue and drowsiness was normal.” Meza graduated from Hart High School in 2013 and continued her education at California State University, Northridge, where she received her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with an emphasis in art. “I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but the doctors advised against it due to germs and my condition,” Meza said. At 19, during the summer before her sophomore year at CSUN, she visited the student medical center where they did multiple blood tests. “It’s been a tough road,” said Jessica’s father Jorge Meza. After receiving the results of the blood test, the health center staff sent her to the hospital right away, Jessica Meza said. “My platelets were very low.” Three months went by and multiple tests were done, but the doctors still had no answers, until she visited UCLA Medical Center. “After two weeks at UCLA, they diagnosed me with autoimmune hepatitis,” Jessica Meza said. “Just like cancer, there are four stages of this disease and I was already at stage 4.” Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the liver and causes it to become inflamed, according to the American Liver Foundation. This is exactly what is happening to Jessica’s body. “My doctor told me that if I didn’t come to him when I did, I would not have lasted two years,” Jessica Meza wrote in a Facebook post Monday. She has about 58 other patients ahead of her on the transplant list, but her disease is affecting her everyday activities, she said. “I don’t know what it feels like to be ready to take on the day.” Meza experiences extreme fatigue, cramping, bruising and sometimes hair loss on a daily basis, she said. Her doctors told her that, because of her age and health, besides her liver, she is a perfect candidate for a living liver transplant. This is when she reached out to friends and family through social media. “I didn’t know so many people would reach out and try to help,” said Jessica’s mother Theresa Meza. “So many people have come forward to support her. We pray a lot, and when you ask, you receive.”
The Meza family, Jorge, Theresa and Jessica, were shocked about a possible living liver donor, four years after Jessica’s diagnosis. Dan Watson/The Signal
  The liver is the only organ in the body that regenerates itself, so a living donor would give Jessica about half of their own liver. “The liver would essentially grow back in their body within a year and the other half would do the same in me,” Jessica Meza said. Jessica and her family were in shock, almost four years after her diagnosis, when the doctors had another option. “I was in tears,” Jorge Meza said. “She is an example to anyone who is going through a tragic endeavor.” In 2015, at the age of 20, Jessica was diagnosed with a second autoimmune disease known as ITP. Immune thrombocytopenia is a rare bleeding disorder characterized by a low amount of platelets in the blood, according to the ITP foundation. “If you have one autoimmune disease, you are generally more susceptible to others,” she said. Jessica had to undergo chemotherapy treatments to get her platelets up. Her platelet count is somewhere between 9 and 12, she said. “Human beings should be at about a 300 platelet count.” “Since my body attacks my liver, they have me on immune suppressants,” Jessica said. “When I get sick, it is worse. It’s never a simple cold. I get hospitalized.” She is in search of her liver’s perfect match. The doctors will evaluate if those willing to donate are a match for Meza through a series of factors including blood type. Jessica’s blood type is type B, she said. The liver transplant list is impacted. Some people die waiting on the list, she said. “I would need to be nearly on my deathbed to be selected.” Jessica’s name will stay on the transplant list while she searches for a living donor. Her family and friends have already reached out to start the prospective donor process, she said. “I have really high hopes for it,” she said. “I kept this to myself for so long. It’s really inspiring and moving. It is a reminder that people are so willing to give.” With the support of her friends and family, Jessica has learned to keep a smile on her face, throughout all the battles she is facing. “I know I’m not the only one with diseases or hardships,” Jessica said. “Even through the toughest of times I try to stay positive.” If you are interested in donating or would like more information, you can call the UCLA doctors at 310-267-8713, or contact Jessica Meza directly at [email protected]

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