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How transplant changed my life

Brendan Elam, posed in front of turquoise doors

On the outside, you may look at me and see a typical soon-to-be college graduate. I’m preparing for finals, making memories in my favorite activities and looking forward to starting my career as a music teacher this fall.  

But none of these things would have been possible without my life-saving liver transplant when I was 10 years old.  

When I was a baby, I was diagnosed with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (A1AD). Alpha-1 is a rare hereditary disorder characterized by low levels of a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin (A1AT) which is found in the blood. This can show up in the body in many ways, but for me, it affected my liver. While I was able to manage for several years, my condition eventually declined to the point that my medical team believed a liver transplant was the best thing for me. After 9 months, we got the call there was a liver available. Within months of my transplant, I was back in school, feeling better than ever and I never looked back. 

Here are a few of my favorite achievements in the past 10+ years that may not have been possible without my liver transplant.

1. I built a community through The Transplant Games of America. 

My family was attending an event at Children’s Mercy when a member of the community introduced me to the Transplant Games. My first Transplant Games in 2014 is my favorite memory since receiving my transplant. It was the first time I met people my age that completely understood what I had gone through. While I have a great support system, I realized how good it felt to build relationships with those who have also gone through the transplant process. Plus, I’m pretty competitive, so it’s fun to participate in everything from track and field events, to basketball, to poker!  

2. I got to live out my passion for music.  

My life wouldn’t be the same without music. I’ve loved studying music education during my time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), and I can’t wait to instill my knowledge to the next generation when I begin my job as a general and choral music teacher this fall.  

3. I’m a member of an award-winning a cappella group.  

Speaking of my love for music, I’ve been a member of the a cappella group “The Bathtub Dogs” during my time at UNL. In addition to being a member, I also serve as the music director, meaning I organize our rehearsals, work on the music we sing and help teach it to the rest of the group. We recently competed at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (think of the competitions you see in the Pitch Perfect movies!) and we got 3rd place in the semifinal round! Our group hadn’t placed at the semifinals in 10 years, so this was a huge achievement for us. 

Luckily, these memories are just a starting point for me. Since my transplant, I've lived with the mindset that I'm going to approach every day like I got a second chance, and I'm going to give it my all. I was so young when I received my transplant, but looking back I realize my life could have been cut short, so I want to do everything I can to not only live life for myself, but for my donor’s family.  

If you are considering becoming an organ donor, I hope I can serve as a reminder that you can change lives. While it can be a scary thing to think about, knowing that 1 organ donor can save up to 8 lives goes to show the huge impact one person can impact I know my donor had on my life.  

If you would like to become an organ donor, you can sign up through Donate Life Missouri or Donate Life Kansas, or find your state here