Official Living Liver Donor

8 Jul

I’ve been back and forth from Japan since the beginning of January due to a decline in my mother’s health. Its been a struggle processing the emotions that are always complex in mother daughter relationships. My mother suffers from cirrhosis of the liver which is commonly caused by alcohol and drug abuse.

I grew up with my mother. She was young when she had me. I took care of her as much as she took care of me. I may have been the parent more often at times. This is common for children who have drinking parents. It is now July and my mother was sentenced to death in January but she has survived for 6 months now. My mother has battled depression throughout her life, though she has never been diagnosed. Mental health is not something that is openly talked about in most cultures, especially the Japanese culture. I am proud of my mother for her will to live. Yet at the same time, I am still working through the resentment I have for everything she has put us through.

So far I started feeling scared that I would lose my mom, then it turned into a feeling of denial, then I became combative and angry. I soon started feeling sad and now I’m just looking forward to this ordeal coming to a close. The emotions change from moment to moment. I decided to become a living liver donor to help my mother and this decision was pretty easy for me to make. I think most people would do it, if they knew it was the one chance to save a life(especially your mother’s life). At first, I was more afraid to find out what I would feel if I let my mom die without my help. Would I spend the rest of my life feeling guilty? Today, I feel almost excited. I know that is so weird to say, but I am just happy to have a chance to see my mom become healthy again.

My family of orgin continues to enhance my understanding of human relational dynamics, characteristics, and challenges that we all face. As I continue to explore these dynamics and the effects it has had on me, I realize how important this is. Every family of orgin looks different; by examining our own complex relations and narratives, it can further my sensitive understanding of the human connection.

I grew up as an only child, latch key kid, to young immigrant, emotionally troubled, alcoholic parents. My parents got married when they were teens and have been together since my mother was 15 and my father was 17. They moved to the United States looking for a bigger life outside their small village on the southern tip of Japan. I was a planned pregancy but my mother had no one in the country to help her, and her support system was all back in Japan. My parents were poor and they lived in a government funded housing project in Downey, CA. After my birth I lived there until I was 3 years old. I have small flashes of memories from that time but they all seem like someone else’s flickering super 8 home movie reels rather than my own.

Perhaps being a nuclear family of three, was an optimal pathogenic environment for triangulation to occur. My parents began having marital problems when I was five years old. My father was young and worked hard,he had a workaholic streak to him that my mother endured.Though we became more financially stable, my father’s over working lead to her depression and unhappiness with her marriage that came to light and ultimately ended in their divorce that year. I vividly remember those final days before the break up. There was a big blow out at the house with family members who were visiting from Japan, and close friends of the family all gathered at the house. My mom and dad fought till my mother locked herself in the bathroom and attempted to take her life. My uncle broke down the door and saved her before any physical damage was done. There was so much crying, screaming, and yelling. I just curiously observed the commotion.

This very incident began to shape my behavior and relationships through adulthood. My parents began physically utilizing me in their situation by my mother kidnapping me to Japan, then my father threatening sole custody, being shuffled around relatives and countries. I don’t remember the day I left my mom in Japan, but my mother claims, my screams tapped her maternal instinct so deeply that she ended up buying a ticket back to the United States a day after I had left her. She was forbidden to see me and spied on me from afar. Upon arriving to the airport,my father surprised me with a new pet parakeet. I always thought of this parakeet as my new mother.

As the days passed my mother never came home and I was not sure if she was ever going to come back and why we had to be separated in the first place. No one clearly explained to me what was going on. Instead, when asking my grandmother when my mom was coming back for me, she replied “when the moon is full”. Needless to say, I became obsessed with checking the status of the moon every night.

I felt abandoned, lonely, and sad which lead to my first experiences of self mutilation as a coping mechanism to take back some sort of control. I was five years of age when I began pulling my hair out and picked up an interest in knives. One of my grandmothers would tell me not to scream and pull my hair out but other than a little reprimanding, no one seemed to think this was strange. My father was working all the time and had no clue what was really going on with me.

Seven months later, my dad pulled me out of kindergarten class early. He told me he had a surprise and took me to a place called the Crown Motor Inn. As he opened the door to the motel room, my mom stood there, eyes welled up with tears as we reunited. We stayed at the motel for the night as a family and I felt happy and complete. However, this feeling did not last for very long. By the next morning my parents began to argue again about whether or not I should have to go to school. I felt like I was in the middle again.

Eventually my parents re-married each other again and continued their dysfunctional marriage. I grew up having to listen to my mother tell me how horrible my father is and telling me the only reason she really came back to the marriage was because she loved me so much. She continued to paint the picture that my father was a neglecting husband and father who only cared about work. She tried to get me to reject my father, bad mouthed him, & complained about how unavailable he was. She shared with me as if I was her girlfriend. When she was sad I had to take console her. The depression led her to many suicide attempts, and threatened to kill me along with her. She used drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and this is only a few of the behaviors that affected our family dynamic.

As the years went on my parents continued to fight and everyday was survival for me. There were many nights I was awakened by my mother to run away in the middle of the night. I am pretty positive this is why I like staying in hotels and motels so much now. We would leave whenever my parents would fight. The hard part for me was that my mother’s mood was so volatile that she would take it out on me and there was a high probability that I would get beat if I annoyed her in anyway. Growing up in an unstable environment and as a child living in constant fear, my adolescent years began my long cycle of self mutilation. Cutting was the only way I could stop the spinning thoughts. I tried drugs and alcohol which did not do anything for me. The self mutilation gave me control and relief to my pain.

During my adolescent years I seem to be the stabalizer in the relationship where my parents focussed on how bad I was doing in school, my dyed hair, and my interest in rock n’ roll. Triangulation was now focused on me being the identified patient instead of my mother or my father. There was a little bit of a shift. Things had become calmer. Upon reflection, I might have continued to purposefully get involved with the punk subculture to try and make my family a little more uncomfortable to extend their attention on me instead of each other. I knew I was a good kid, but my mother’s voice is always lurking in my head telling me that I am the only reason why she suffered and continues to suffer. As I grew up, I went through a number of abusive relationships where I kept playing out the scenes from my childhood, most of them were with myself. I grew into an adult who over achieved so I could ignore the pain.

The outcome of all this has lead me to where I am today. I wish I did not have to go through some of the things that I did but I love that I was able to grow immensely from these experiences. I see all families have pain. I have experienced life and it has given mine more color. The scars on my limbs are starting to fade but they will never be completely gone just as the wounds that continue to heal inside. I now suffer from PTSD that is pretty much under control. After years of therapy and work I have learned that no matter what, I am always going to want a set of parents like the ones that are in Norman Rockwell paintings, Mr. Mrs Cunningham of Happy Days, or Mary Poppins, but they do not exist. Instead I have a workaholic father and the suicidal mother that I love and have found peace with.

My mother’s depression had increased to the worst I have ever seen before her diagnosis. I am sure that this was related to her liver cirrhosis. Since she has bee hospitalized for 6 months she has a lot of cognitive disfunction most likely stemming from high ammonia levels and toxicity in her system. I also believe being in a bed for 6 months will take a toll on your mental and emotional health. I am able to enjoy her good days with her and support her by being a daughter. But I am no longer able to enable her, coddle her, or be the reason for her unhappiness. I see my mother’s pain not from the perspective of an angst ridden daughter of a broken family, but I feel that I am witnessing the pain of a woman, a mother, a wife, a human being, a soul.
This disease and this transplant is a gift from the universe. It has awakened my family to what is important in life. It has given me hope that we are on our journey to heal. It is a second chance to creating a life my family dreamed of when they immigrated to the United States. It is a second chance to having a genuine relationship with each other.

So when people say that I’m brave for donating my organ to my mom, I don’t feel brave. I feel blessed. I am so lucky to have this opportunity for life with my family that I love so much. I’m sure there will be days where my emotions will change again, leading to a few swear words here and there, but I know deep in my heart that I am thankful for this experience. I am living life.

*I will be donating my liver on 7/9/2012 at 4pm PST


12 Responses to “Official Living Liver Donor”

  1. melissaintrees July 9, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    I hope everything goes well with the transplant…i’ll be rooting for your health and your mom’s recovery.

  2. Jamie Harman July 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    As I type this you are in surgery and I’m sending you and your mom lots of love and light. Xoxo

    • Jamie Harman July 9, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

      And thank you for sharing your story

      • aiball July 20, 2012 at 3:33 am #

        Hey Jamie, Thanks for sending us love and light. I am healing very quickly. Thank you so much. I love reading all your shares too!

  3. June July 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Ai…. I think that you are undergoing surgery as I write this. I can’t tell you how much I admire your courage, strength and maturity. Not everyone comes through adversity with the ability to learn and move forward in life. I send you….and your mother….healing energy.
    PS. I am Laura’s mom and have heard so much about you….and your voice on the radio!

    • aiball July 20, 2012 at 3:31 am #

      Hi June! Thank you for your comment and healing energy. Laura helped my mom tremendously last night. She talked to my mom’s higher self to help her start breathing without being intubated. When I walked into the ICU this morning she was off of all breathing machines and breathing on her own. So happy to hear from you and I hope we get to meet in person. Laura told me you got your PHD from my school too! How cool. Thank you for your support.

  4. Daniel Siwek July 10, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    you ARE brave and strong and courageous and generous and humane and brilliant, aiball. much love from the jahlion.

    • aiball July 20, 2012 at 3:33 am #

      Thanks Jah, must meet up when I am up and running.

  5. shilaB July 27, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    Hi Aiball,

    How is your recovery going? I am thinking of doing the same thing for my dad. I’m very scared but know its the right thing to do if we have no other options. Where did you have your transplant done in the US?

    • aiball July 27, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

      Hi Shila,

      I’m so glad you wrote me. I have had a hard time finding people who have been in similar situations. My recovery is going well. I’m not gonna lie, the first week was very difficult but its amazing how quickly I am healing. I returned to the U.S. last night and drove around and ran errands today. I know I should be taking it easy but I was so excited to be back.

      The decision to become a donor is a difficult one as you know. Where are you located? Although I had my procedure done in Japan, I did a lot of research. If you need some leads I may have some. Let me know what state you’re in. Before my operation, they did a lot of tests that were not very invasive. Mainly blood tests, CT scan, Echo-cardiogram, PET scan, & X-rays. After determining my health, I met with the doctor that was the head of the liver transplantation department. He basically gave me the run down on how the procedure worked and the risks. There are risks and they are real. You have to consider them. I knew I was in great health and believed that my risk was small. I was right. I am healing faster than most people and the doctors also said I had a really amazing liver.

      My mother is now out of ICU and she is slowly recovering. Her lab numbers are getting better and she is healing. Please feel free to contact me personally if you would like to talk more in detail. Email me at

      • shilaB July 28, 2012 at 9:26 am #

        emailed you personally.

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