BOISE, Idaho — Do you remember your high school prom? Did you stay in touch with your date? Two Treasure Valley high school graduates not only stayed in touch, they had a very special reunion recently.
"We went to Skyview High School in Nampa," Heather Moeller said.
Heather Moeller and Jeremy Smith, both 35, met in speech class eighteen years ago. They went to prom that year. Moeller still has the prom photos all these years later.
"These are our pictures," Moeller said. "I'd like to say we have changed a little bit over the years. We just decided to go together as friends, he picked me up, we went out to dinner, had a great time and it was wonderful."
Jeremy was excited to go with Heather, too.
"It was nice," Jeremy said. "We had a really good time. I was excited to be able to go!"
Heather moved to Washington state after graduation, but they stayed in touch over the years. They both got married and started their families. But as the years went on, Jeremy's life, and his health, took a turn. He was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, and then he was hit with more bad news. He was diagnosed with PSC. Primary sclerosing cholangitis causes cirrhosis of the liver.
"It was escalating rather quickly, and they told us at that time you are going to need a transplant at some point," Smith said. "So, it was really scary."
Jeremy's quality of life continued to worsen. He and his wife Candace wanted to keep people up to date on his health journey, and to get the word out that he needed a liver donor.
"We created a family Facebook page, called Smith Family Transplant," Smith said.
Heather, now a mother of two girls, saw the page, and read up on what Jeremy was dealing with.
"He was put on the transplant list," Moeller said. "He was looking for a living donor or a deceased donor, whichever he could get first. They asked if anyone was interested in being tested to be a donor, and I was like well, what does it take? I mean, why not try and see how it goes."
After weeks of extensive testing through Intermountain Health, Heather was told she was a match! She called Jeremy to tell him the incredible news, before his doctors at Intermountain Transplant Services even had a chance to.
"Of course, I picked up the phone first," Moeller said. "I was like hey. guess what? I'm a match! They accepted me! We were both pretty excited. I think we may have cried."
It was really emotional for both of them. Heather then went on to lose 30 pounds in order to be at her healthiest for the surgery.
"To have her be willing to do that was very special," Smith said. "It was different, because what do you say when someone has interrupted their life, to put their life at risk for you? You say thank you, of course, but you just want to convey much more."
The surgery was set for January in Utah. They met up the night before. Heather says she was shocked at how sick Jeremy looked.
"When we saw him the day before transplant, he was in rough shape," Heather said.
The surgery was several hours long, for both of them. Dr. Richard Gilroy, the Medical Director of Liver Transplant for Intermountain Health explained the surgery to us.
"The operation involves splitting the liver and splitting it the right way, and then reconnecting it perfectly. The bottom line? It's a very complex surgery," Dr. Gilroy said.
Heather and Jeremy were blown away by the process, and the coordination that goes into a living organ transplant operation.
"It was a whole team assigned to us," Jeremy said. "The number one priority is that live donor. Her health and safety comes first. She even had VIP on her hospital room door!"
Dr. Gilroy said there is a dire need for donors, living and deceased.
"The bottom line is there are too many people waiting, there just aren't enough donors. When people stand up and do what Heather is doing, it is transformative," Dr. Gilroy said.
It has now been almost four months since the surgery that changed both of their lives. They are doing well, and Jeremy says he is finally living again. Seeing him looking so much healthier makes it all worth it for Heather, and she says being a living donor is something more people should consider. Living donors can donate a kidney, or part of the liver. In some pediatric cases, it's even possible to donate a partial lung.
"He looks amazing, he really does," said Heather.
From prom dates to surgery mates, these two high school friends now have a bond that goes a lot deeper than prom.
"Some part of me feels like it was fate," Heather said. "Somehow the stars aligned, and there was a greater plan, and this is it."
Heather is now so much more than just a friend. She's family, and Jeremy's hero.
"Oh, a hundred percent, she doesn't like to be called that," Jeremy said. "But she's my hero and my family's hero. I also get to carry around a piece of her."
Jeremy says the best part of feeling good again, is finally being able to be an active dad with his three kids. They have their dad back.
April is National Donate Life month, to get more information on being a living donor, click here.
if you want to be a donor when you pass away, have that conversation with your family. You can also sign up through Yes Idaho.
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