Get better Jaelin so you can come visit me in Spain!
At the age of 12, Madison Ricci was diagnosed with Lupus. She had an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly), very low platelets and was severely anemic. In March 2018, her team of physicians advised her parents that it was time to start looking for a living donor to give her the best chance for survival. Even though she appeared as a beautiful happy young lady on the outside, Maddie’s liver was deteriorating quickly and she was dying on the inside.
On April 9, 2018, Kristine and Todd Ricci made a public appeal, hoping to find a living liver donor for their now 18 year-old daughter. Parents never dream that they would be forced to make a public appeal for help in obtaining an organ so their baby girl would survive. Yet it became apparent that, at this time, Maddie needed an angel. The response was overwhelming with wonderful, selfless, compassionate people offering to help Maddie and her family in every way possible. Unfortunately, several possible donors fell through for various medical reasons. But one special person was a match, and he made an incredibly noble decision.
Jaelin Highsmith heard about Maddie’s story through a mutual family friend of the Riccis during this past summer. Jaelin had never met Maddie but knew from the day he found out about her that he wanted to be the donor. Jaelin had a 5-10% chance of actually being a match for Maddie. After over 4 months of testing, and countless trips to Yale-New Haven Hospital, Jaelin was officially Maddie’s "angel." And despite being warned that he would not be able to help friends or family members in the future who might need a liver transplant, Jaelin resolved to help a complete stranger. He said, “I was anxious throughout the entire process, and at times it felt like the day would never get here.” He said the whole process "just felt right," and that he would "have an opportunity to save a life, and not everyone gets that opportunity." Maddie mentioned how amazing it was to her that Jaelin went through so much for her after only hearing about her through social media.
On December 11, 2018, Jaelin and Maddie underwent a liver transplant surgery. It lasted 7 hours for Jaelin and 15.5 hours for Maddie. After, Jaelin spent four nights in the hospital and is now recovering successfully in his home. Maddie spent thirteen nights in the hospital, with many of them being in the ICU, and despite some complications, she was able to make it home for Christmas where she will be recovering for several months. However, after Christmas Maddie was readmitted to Yale for another 6 days and is now recovering at home. Jaelin has also had his fair share of bumps in the road post-surgery.
Long-term illnesses are expensive at best, but those associated with transplant surgery can be astronomical, even with insurance. By April of 2018, Maddie had already exceeded the maximum of her prescription benefit for the year, leaving the Riccis to pay for the rest out of pocket. In addition to direct and continuing medical expenses, Maddie's recovery will require her parents to take time off from work despite the mounting bills. So Jaelin wants to continue to help. He is now involved in a fundraising campaign for the Ricci family. When asked why he wants to continue the giving and raise donations to help with medical costs, Jaelin said, “We took the biggest stride in actually getting through the surgery successfully, but it doesn’t stop there. As long as more can be done, I’ll be willing to help get it done.”
Although Maddie and Jaelin have yet to meet in person, they have exchanged a few heartfelt messages. Jaelin told Maddie, “Anytime I’m in pain I think about how YOU are absolutely going to get through this and there’s no way I’m letting you finish this journey alone.” He also told her, “It’s an honor to be called your angel, but on behalf of all of my family and friends, you’re OUR true angel, Maddie.” Maddie responded by saying, “I can’t wait to meet the man that gave me a second chance at this beautiful life and a second view on each day. Thank you, Jaelin, for doing what most wouldn’t and being the bravest person ever. This whole thing has taught me to never, ever take our days for granted.” She added that for Jaelin “to have never met me and to still want to donate so strongly makes him so courageous and the most selfless person I will ever know.”
Please consider donating to help with the medical costs for Maddie’s family. Additionally, if you are inspired to become a living donor, please contact the Transplantation Center of Yale-New Haven Hospital at 866-925-3897. Please share this story of bravery, kindness, and an absolute miracle to shed a light on a world in need of good news. On behalf of the Ricci family and Jaelin Highsmith, we thank you for reading.
Thank you so much for your support! Please help us raise even more by sharing on Facebook or email, it would mean so much to us.