HAVERHILL — Danielle Penney is grateful for a chance to spend the holidays at home — this year and for years to come.
When her body welcomed a transplant organ in November, doctors told the 50-year-old that this Christmas won’t be her last, which was a possibility months ago when her health plummeted yet again.
“I know I have been given a gift,” she said. “I’m so appreciative.”
Danielle will live to ride her motorcycle alongside her beloved husband, Brett.
The couple will be able to fly to California for a taping of “The Price Is Right,” something they always wanted to do.
“I have to start working on a bucket list,” Danielle said through tears. “This is a blessing. A new beginning.”
The Haverhill woman was diagnosed in August 2017 with end-stage liver disease.
Her options were limited — replace her diseased liver with a whole, healthy organ from a deceased donor, or find a living donor who fit specific criteria and was willing to give up a portion of a vital organ.
Her need grew increasingly dire and statistics were not in her favor.
According to Columbia University, the list of people needing livers is about 17,000 people long.
The United Network for Organ Sharing reports that only 3.8% of liver transplants use living donors nationwide; in Massachusetts, it’s about 10%.
Brett, unable to sit back and wait for his wife to be spared, purchased 50 giant, pleading magnets.
“My wife needs a liver. She’s O blood type,” the magnets read. “Help Danielle Penney. Please help my wife.”
He stuck one on the side of his car.
By the time a liver became available, 400 others — friends, family and curious strangers — were also driving around the East Coast with the message.
“It was a godsend at moments to know that there were so many people out there praying for us,” he said tearfully.
It yielded offers from three strangers — one was too scared to follow through with surgery, the next had a liver that was too small, and the last one would have been a perfect match, but Danielle was too ill to be cut open.
“My weight was up to 188. I had a lot of water retention, meaning the medications weren’t working anymore. And I had a blood infection. They had to admit me for that on Oct. 30,” she said.
Still hospitalized on Nov. 5, it became the day she waited years for. Danielle accepted a liver. It came from a woman who died in a car crash.
Danielle was taken into surgery the following morning. She said a complication midway through landed her in an induced coma for a full day before surgeons could continue working on her.
She was left with 47 staples in her belly that continue to hold her together while she heals from the inside.
“I remember little pieces from recovery,” she said. “I had a nurse that I called my angel. My husband would sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to me every day. He was by my side for all of it.”
Back home in Haverhill, Danielle and Brett welcome visiting nurses three times per week. A physical therapist comes twice weekly.
Brett calls his wife a warrior.
“I don’t know if I could have taken it. She stayed strong,” he said.
Danielle said some days are better than others so far.
“Doctors said I’ll feel completely drained for like six weeks,” she said. “Eventually, the good days will outnumber the bad days.”
The couple cried again. This time, they were happy tears.