Diane Tovar thought she was healthy. But testing done as part of a routine exam revealed surprises in her bloodwork. "My platelet count was low and my liver enzymes were high," says Diane, a sleep therapy educator at the Sleep Disorders Center at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus. After an ultrasound and MRI, Diane would learn the reason: She had nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a serious form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Though she was experiencing no symptoms — "I didn't feel or look sick" — the condition had led to stage IV cirrhosis. Diane was told she'd need a liver transplant to survive.
"It was the most devastating news I've ever received," she tells us. "I kept wondering, 'Can this really be right?'" But along with the devastation came many blessings, she says, beginning with the doctor who delivered the diagnosis, Elizabeth Carey, M.D., a Mayo hepatologist. "Dr. Carey was wonderful," Diane says. "She let me cry and reassured me they were going to take care of me." Another blessing? She soon realized her care team would include not just medical staff, but also her colleagues.
"My co-workers were truly my everything," says Diane, who continued to work while she waited for a transplant. "They accommodated my work schedule. They wanted to know if there was anything they could do for me."
They also offered prayers, concern and support as she waited for the call that a liver was available. And on May 18, 2014, she got the life-changing news that a compatible liver had been found. Diane says that call left her with "mixed emotions." Though her life depended on a transplant, her heart ached for her donor's family. "I kept thinking about the person who had died and the family that said yes to donation," she tells us. "I kept thinking about a grieving family who gave me an amazing gift."
Not long after her transplant, Diane started thinking about doing something to pay that gift forward. "I wanted to do some volunteer work, something to support transplants," she says. Again, it was her co-workers who provided inspiration. Diane had begun making salsa a few years earlier, and it quickly gained fans when she shared some at work. Her recipe, a variation on a family favorite, even won a Mayo employee salsa contest in 2012. After a colleague encouraged her to can and sell her salsa, Diane had a lightbulb moment: She would sell her salsa and give the proceeds to charities dedicated to liver disease. First up: the American Liver Foundation.
"It's a great feeling to start giving back," Diane tells us. "It's a way of showing gratitude. I knew that word before my transplant, but it means so much more to me now."
You can read more of Diane's story – and order a jar of Diane's 2nd Chance Salsa ("Made with a Spice for Life") – by visiting her Liver Life Walk page. We'd be grateful if you'd leave a comment below, and use the tools atop this page to share this story with others.