One year of healing, mourning and Faith

July 11, 2018

When Jeannie Westby got the call last July that her 15-year-old daughter, Faith, would receive a liver transplant, she knew it was a gift of life.

What she didn’t know was that 15-year-old Logan Luft’s liver would also bring the gift of life to both of their families — in more ways than one.

“When we’re all together, it just feels like it’s all going to be OK,” Logan’s mom, Wendy Luft, said. “Everything’s OK, and we live. We totally just live.”

‘That has to be our donor’

On July 4, 2017, Logan was in an ATV accident and was airlifted to Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys. The Pelican Rapids, Minn., teenager died two days later, and the transplant process began.

The two families were in the same hospital that week, but no official contact was made. However, they both sensed a connection early on.

“We kind of had this feeling in our hearts: ‘That has to be our donor,’” Westby said, reflecting on when they saw the story of Logan’s accident on the news.

Simultaneously, Luft learned of Faith’s transplant story through social media and eventually reached out over Facebook in August.

“Jeannie was pretty hesitant in the beginning,” Luft said. “So, I actually sent her the letter I got from Life Source.”

Westby had sent that “outcome letter” through Life Source, an Upper Midwest nonprofit organization specializing in donation support. The letter included a simple update on Faith. It was purposely vague to maintain the Charles City, Iowa, family’s privacy.

Life Source public relations coordinator Matt Erickson said that letter is usually a first form of communication for transplant families. While he works on the donor side of communication, he estimates that more people do write than don’t, but the frequency is hit or miss. The rate of a response or connection can be even less.

“While recipients were given the incredible gift of life, they also have some guilt,” Erickson said, “because they know what that means on the other side.”

‘You’re so grateful, and you’re so sad.’

Westby said her family felt those exact feelings, but to a higher degree.

“How would I feel if (my child’s) liver ended up in a child that has special needs?” Westby questioned. “Would that make a difference?”

Faith, now 16 years old, has Kabuki syndrome, a multi-system disorder. She has been doctoring at Mayo Clinic for the last 16 years for issues involving her weakened immune system, kidneys, heart, hearing, infections and more.

“Especially when it’s pediatric, you’re so grateful, and you’re so sad,” Westby said. “They allowed (Logan) to give the ultimate gift and live on, but what if it’s not someone that they would have chosen?”

So, after some slow back-and-forth personal communication, the two families agreed to meet in person in Rochester in December.

“As soon as we met,” Luft said, “she knew right away that that was never a concern or fear of mine. Disappointment was the last thing in my mind.”

That first visit, Westby showed Luft Faith’s transplant scar. She said that because of the DNA they now shared, Faith was forever her daughter now, too. They agreed that sharing their experiences – despite being on separate sides of the spectrum – added needed support and healing to the entire process.

“Right then, I had just lost a child and I am six months out of mourning his loss,” Luft said. “To have gained this new little girl was just the greatest gift you can imagine getting.”

A whole new family

“We literally became family overnight,” Westby said. “You would’ve never known we had just met.”

Luft, who agreed with a laugh, said even their husbands and other children mesh. From the first day, they said it felt as if they had known each other forever, and they truly believe the match could not have been more perfect.

That connection has not wavered since December.

At the end of January, the Westbys drove down to meet the entire Luft family and community in Iowa. They also spent their entire spring break in Rochester when Faith was hospitalized again.

As part of the Luft family goal to spread awareness, provide knowledge and raise money for organ donation, the two families walked a 5K in Des Moines, Iowa, for Logan’s 16th birthday in April. The event was dedicated in Logan’s name. The month of May saw the Lufts drive up to Pelican Rapids to share their story, which included a message of safety and information about donation, with Logan’s school.

They even rendezvoused in Rochester for Faith’s appointment on Monday.

“I walked through the most difficult days with them by my side,” Luft said. “So, he’s not here and we have to deal with that loss, but they’re walking through that with us, and that makes everything so much easier.”

Mourning and celebration

The one-year anniversaries of Logan’s accident and Faith’s transplant were last week. After days of celebrations, mourning and reflection, both mothers said they’re blessed to have their families — as well as their religious faith — to lean on throughout all of the highs and lows.

“Now, we know that nothing matters,” Westby said. “This is God’s plan, and we were brought together for a reason. I don’t know how people do it without a God to lean on and grow stronger with through the whole process. But no matter what, we’re going to go through it together.”

She estimates they’ve spent a combined 10 weeks in Rochester since December. Faith has had four bouts of rejection of the liver, as well as MRIs and other testing to maintain the health of the organ and the rest of her body, since the transplant. But no matter what they face medically, they’re simply grateful for all the work the Mayo doctors, surgeons and nurses have done.

“Through all of her health issues, this has definitely been the biggest and scariest,” Westby said, “but it’s also been the most amazing experience. It’s fun to wonder what’s going to happen next.”

Luft is also looking to the future.

“One year ago, we left here without Logan,” Luft said. “It was the darkest day of our lives. Here we are one year later, and everything is so much brighter. We have a brand-new family, we have Faith, and it’s not a scary place to come back to.”

Whether trying to coordinate meetings in Pelican Rapids, Charles City or Rochester, the two families can be found laughing endlessly, finishing each other’s sentences and eating giant pretzels at Rooster’s.

“We not only got a life-saving liver,” Westby said, “but we also got a life, now, that is so meaningful – full of family and community.”

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