Liver donor treasures autographs from Mayo staff collected in the ‘Little Book of Values’

Stacia Carroll intended to donate a portion of her liver to an old family friend. When he passed suddenly, she decided to give the gift of life to a stranger instead. See what she said about her experience, her keepsake book with Mayo staff signatures, and what inspires her to share her story.  

The license plates on Stacia Carroll's Kia Telluride read "LFSVR," a title that she's earned and wears proudly.

The story behind those plates begins with a Facebook post that caught her attention.  

On May 4, 2022, Stacia was winding down for the day. As she made her way through her Facebook feed, she learned that someone she knew had a rare form of liver cancer and needed a transplant.

"The post indicated that finding his own donor was the best chance to have that procedure quickly," Stacia says.

It was a call for anyone willing to step forward, and Stacia responded to the need without hesitation.  

Ready to donate

Stacia, a registered organ donor, a member of the Be the Match bone marrow registry, and a frequent blood donor, says altruism is in her nature.

"I was moved by the post," Stacia says. "I responded to it and shared that I would be willing to step forward to be considered as a donor, not knowing exactly what all that entailed."

Stacia Carroll

Her name and contact information were given to Mayo Clinic.

Mayo Clinic contacted Stacia to complete a patient health questionnaire to determine if she was a suitable potential donor.

"I was notified that Mayo Clinic was pursuing another donor but would reach out if it didn't work out with that person," Stacia says.

A few months later, Stacia received a call asking if she was still interested. She was.

In November 2022, she traveled four and a half hours to Rochester, Minnesota, for her donor evaluation.

"I had never been to Mayo Clinic," Stacia says. "I knew of it, of course, but now I call Mayo Clinic the Disney World of healthcare. It's next-level healthcare. There's a sense of urgency that I don't think exists in other places. It's a well-oiled machine and makes for a great experience for the patient and visitors."

Her testing went well, but blood work revealed she was anemic, so she was sent home for a colonoscopy and endoscopy to rule out internal bleeding.

Those procedures took place on Nov. 24. On Nov. 27, the intended recipient passed away.

"I was stunned by his passing," Stacia says. "Of course, I knew he was ill, but I didn't expect that to happen."

Unexpected turn of events leads to new opportunity

Stacia's nurse coordinator contacted her and asked if she would consider a non-directed donation.

"I wasn't exploring living donation other than to fill the need for this person I knew," Stacia says.

But the more she thought about it, the more she felt called to continue.

"I thought, just because this happened doesn't mean there is not still a need," Stacia says. "So I decided to move forward anyway."

I thought, just because this happened doesn't mean there is not still a need. So I decided to move forward anyway.Stacia Carroll

On Dec. 9, Stacia was told she was approved to be a donor and would be called when Mayo Clinic found her a perfect match.

On March 10, 2023, she got that call.

Surgery was scheduled for April 21.

"At that point, I had to plan and prepare to be gone for work. Something I think is overlooked is that the financial aspect may make people apprehensive about doing this," Stacia says.

"Because I had a directed donor originally, all my procedures were reimbursed by the family. That was not the case for non-directed donation," Stacia says. "I got wonderful guidance from my social worker and others at Mayo Clinic about the funding available."

On April 20, Stacia traveled to Rochester and met with the preoperative team. At 4:53 a.m. on the day of the scheduled surgery, she got a call that the surgery had to be canceled — the intended recipient had an infection in her blood.  

"It was disappointing news," Stacia says. "But, on the other hand, I was impressed that Mayo Clinic would not proceed with the procedure unless they were confident it would be a good outcome for all."

Persevering to meet the need

Stacia got a call from her social worker on her way home to Iowa. She asked how Stacia felt and if she still wanted to move forward.

"I said I would like to continue, with the stipulation that the procedure had to be done by June 1 because of family obligations," Stacia says.

A few weeks later, Stacia got another call.

"They said, 'We've chatted with your recipient's transplant team, and they say she will be healthy enough for the surgery on May 17, 2023,'" Stacia says.

So, she went back to Rochester. On May 17, she had surgery to remove the left lobe of her liver as well as her gallbladder, which is routine with liver transplant surgery.

Initially, recovery came with some challenges.

"I remember it was hard to take deep breaths at first, and I had rib pain," Stacia says. "I think it was just my body reacting to an invasive surgery. Luckily, I had great support at home and was able to be compliant with my post-surgical restrictions."

Despite the early hurdles, Stacia reflects fondly on her transplant experience, stating that she is grateful for her care team and is back to doing everything she loves.

"My care team was awesome. Everyone was fantastic, transparent, visible and present. I even had communion distributed to me every day in the hospital. That's part of my healing process — the spiritual aspect," Stacia says.

"I treasured my interactions with my social workers, the donor advocate, the nurses and doctors," Stacia says.

A keepsake and 'thank you'

Stacia knew early on that she wanted to remember her journey and the remarkable people who were part of it.

During one of her initial visits to Rochester, Stacia purchased "The Little Book of Mayo Clinic Values" at the Mayo Clinic gift shop.

"The book caught my attention because I am mission-driven," Stacia says. "I brought the book home and read it from cover to cover."

When Stacia returned for surgery and follow-up appointments, she had everyone she encountered at Mayo Clinic sign it.

"I have 118 signatures in the book. It's not just names. It's words of affirmation and kind sentiments," Stacia says.

After her experience as a patient, Stacia says the Mayo values are more than just words on a page.

"My experience has just been an overwhelming demonstration of the values," she says.

It was an experience she says she will never forget. As a token of gratitude for her incredible care, she gifted Mayo Clinic an Isabelle Bloom sculpture called "Helping Hands." 

Inspiring others to help their neighbors

Since her transplant, Stacia has joined the Liver Giver team to share her experience with others considering donation. She volunteers with the Iowa Donor Network team and hopes to write a book about her transplant one day.

Stacia says she is proud of her body's ability to give the gift of life to someone else but understands that not everyone can give that gift.

Still, she aims to inspire people to be courageous and do what they can to help others.

"I don't think my story needs to be what everyone does, but everyone can do something. There are so many needs around us," Stacia says.

"Everyone can do something to ease the burden of their neighbor, whether that's smiling at someone who never feels seen," she says. "It can be simple things."