February 27, 2019IMLAY CITY — Could you be the match Amanda Gutierrez needs? The 33 year-old Imlay City resident and mom of five kids is in desperate need of a liver transplant and her family and friends are spreading the word in hopes that a living donor can be found soon.
Amanda's liver failure is being caused by primary biliary thorosis and a secondary diagnosis of xanthoma. All told, her body won't process cholesterol in her system, either the good or bad cholesterol. It turns out her paternal grandmother suffered from a similar condition that eventually took her life.
It started about two years ago when she was pregnant with her son. Doctors thought the condition that made her constantly itch would go away after she gave birth, but it didn't.
"A year ago I started to get bumps all over my body and they were very painful," Amanda said, adding that her skin had also yellowed.
She was working at the time as a building aide at Borland Elementary School and, at the urging of staff there, she sought medical help. After months and months of testing, doctors of the University of Michigan finally settled on her diagnosis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, primary biliary thorosis is an autoimmune disease that causes progressive destruction of bile ducts in the body. Only 200,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. In turn, that disease has caused the painful bumps all over her body which are formally known as xanthomas. Those bumps are actually cholesterol deposits.
"U of M has never had a patient like me," she said, noting that she's become a case study of sorts for doctors and researchers at the university because of that rarity.
Unfortunately, there's little to no treatment for her conditions, other than getting a new liver.
"I don't get to take anything for the pain because the doctors don't know enough about my condition to treat it at all. I have to cope with it as I go and it's been getting worse," Amanda said.
Imlay City's Amanda Gutierrez, shown here with her kids—Taylor, Brody, Annabelle, Joslyn and Raul—is in need of a liver transplant and hopes a living donor can be found soon.
Currently, about the only thing Amanda is able to get out of the house for are her doctors' appointments and to watch her 14 year-old daughter, Taylor, compete on the Imlay City High School wrestling team.
In October of last year, doctors ordered the rounds of testing needed in advance of a transplant and early last week Amanda was notified she had been placed on the transplant list to receive a liver from a deceased donor but the odds are greater she can get a new liver more quickly from a living donor.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 6,000 living organ donations take place every year or about 4 out of every 10 transplants.
To be eligible to donate for Amanda, a potential donor must have O-type blood. The University of Michigan's Living Donor program also asks that donors be between the ages of 21-55 and not have any major medical problems.
At least one her friends went through the testing process but doctors eventually determined the transplant wasn't possible. Other acquaintances, former co-workers and parents of the Borland students she worked with have pledged to get tested too.
"The liver is the only organ that grows after a transplant. If someone is able to donate to me, both of our livers will be normal size within two weeks," Amanda said.
She admits she's learned a lot about transplant science in the last year.
"I didn't know anything about donating until
I got sick...it's a whole
different world. You can save so many lives and
it's a very incredible thing if you're the one receiving it. I'm trying to put the word out for organ donation and tell people how important it is," Amanda said.
"It's a risky thing to ask someone, but you could be saving someone's life."
If someone thinks they might be able to help Amanda, they are encouraged to call the University of Michigan's Living Donor Office at 1-800-333-9013 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because of privacy laws, Amanda can't make any of the contacts herself and, if the donor chooses, they can stay anonymous. A year following the transplant, recipients are allowed to write a letter to their donor or the donor's family.
Amanda is hopeful that a donor can be found soon and she can resume her normal activities.
"I miss being at the school and being with the kids. I really want to get back to working in the school and be there for my own kids' activities," Amanda said.
"I think it's just a matter of time before the doctors find someone...you have to think positive."
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Amanda's family has set up a GoFundMe account to help her pay for medical bills and other everyday expenses while she's not able to work.
Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/amanda-gutierrez.
Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she and her family reside in the Capac area where she enjoys gardening and reading.