A Meriden man finally met the recipient of his life-saving liver donation during an emotional family gathering on the front lawn of her Hamden home, captured live on national television this week.
Jaelin Highsmith, 22, agreed to undergo months of testing and a complicated surgery to donate a portion of his liver to Madison Ricci, whom he had never met, after reading about Ricci on a Facebook page her mother created.
The 19-year-old Hamden resident was diagnosed with lupus when she was 12 and has dealt with the illness ever since, struggling with migraines, low energy and pain throughout her body. Her condition progressively got worse and Ricci was diagnosed with additional illnesses. Last year, doctors told her she would need a liver transplant.
Ricci said she was scared, at first, but became hopeful when a family member agreed to donate portions of her liver. However, three days before the surgery, Ricci was told the donor could not go through with the surgery due to medical reasons.
“I was really scared because the last surgery fell through,” Ricci told the Record-Journal. “I didn’t want that to happen again.”
For the next couple of months, she struggled with her health while searching for another donor. Ricci’s mother set up a Facebook page, Miracle for Maddie, to help in the search for another donor. In November, Ricci got a call from the hospital that she had a match.
“It feels like a weight lifting off my shoulders,” Ricci said. “I finally get to live a normal life.”
Highsmith, a Platt High School graduate and former standout athlete, said he heard about Ricci’s story from a friend in a group chat and felt compelled to help. He decided to call the hospital to see if he was able to donate. Doctors told him the chances of being a specific match were just 5 percent.
“I wanted to try and go through the process and the steps,” Highsmith said. “It came to the point where I found out that I was a perfect match.”
Ricci said she had no idea who her donor was at the time but was grateful and overwhelmed.
A month after discovering she had a donor, Ricci had the surgery she had been waiting for.
It took a total of 22 hours due to complications from a blood clot. Highsmith also had complications in the weeks following his seven-hour surgery, but said he is feeling better now.
“Post-surgery I felt that I needed to contact her as soon as I could,” Highsmith said. “It was amazing. sending text messages and getting that response was awesome.”
Ricci said she and Highsmith had plans to meet in person as soon as their health improved. A family friend sent her story to ABC’s “Good Morning America,” which featured Ricci and Highsmith in a segment earlier this week. The two met for the first time Tuesday, outside Ricci’s home during the live broadcast. Highsmith described the moment as “pure emotion.”
“It was great seeing her and her family,” Highsmith said. “Words can’t even describe it.”
The full story and segment can be viewed on the Good Morning America website www.goodmorningamerica.com.