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Caitlin Balint

A personal campaign sponsored by Caitlin Balint

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I was in my senior year of high school, when I was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis. I was
17 years old. I originally went to the doctors because of a knee injury and he was concerned with
all the bruising I had on my legs from playing soccer. He sent me for bloodwork and from there
it was a series of tests until they figured out what was wrong with me. I thought they were crazy,
because I felt fine and was upset I could no longer play soccer.


Soccer had been my life, so I started running to stay in shape. In college, I was approached by
one of my professors who had seen me running around campus and asked me about joining the
cross country team. I thought he was crazy, running long distances for fun? However, my junior
year I found myself trying out for the cross country team. I was number one on our team, second
in New England, and I qualified individually for nationals where I placed 52. I’ve always
credited my running to slowing the progression of my liver disease.


After graduating from Saint Anselm College, and later Rivier College with a degree in nursing, I
moved back to Connecticut. My first job was at Yale New Haven Hospital. I have been a nurse
for the past 13 years working in various Emergency Departments, Intensive Care Units, Surgical
Recovery Units, and specialized units like Interventional Radiology. In May 2020, I passed my
nurse practitioner boards and I am hoping that once I am recovered I will be able to work with a
transplant team to help others who are going through what I have.


In 2013, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Reagan. My husband, Dave, and I were
overjoyed, but the pregnancy took a heavy toll on my health. Reagan was born 5 weeks
early and only weighed 4 pounds. Reagan is a tough little fighter, and was discharged 3
days later while I spent another week in the hospital.


At the end of 2017, I was placed on the transplant list in tandem with my gallbladder
removal surgery. During the summer of 2020, my symptoms worsened and my doctor said
it was time to start looking for a living liver donor. I’ve always been a private person, so
when my husband and I decided to share with everyone that I needed a liver transplant it
was hard. We started a page on Facebook called “Cait Needs a Liver,” a few newspaper
articles were written, and the Ridgefield Running Company shared a call to action on my
behalf. On January 12, 2021 I received the call that Yale had found a match. My match
was Sophie Long, a 25 year old courageous and selfless runner, and former employee at
Ridgefield Field Running Company. Surgery was scheduled for January 26, which was
postponed at the last minute, until February 2, due to a COVID outbreak on one of the
floors.


After 10 hours in the Operation Room, Sophie was discharged after 5 days and I was right
behind her the next day. I would later have to go to IR for a hepatic arterial thrombosis
(HAT) and then the OR for a portal vein occlusion.


The path to recovery has not been easy, but I am taking it one day at a time, listening to my
body and hugging and kissing my family every chance I get.


I have been under the care of Dr. James Boyer at Yale New Haven Hospital since I was 17.
He has been there for me, for every major event I’ve had in my life. I cannot thank him
enough for everything he has done for me. He is a brilliant man and I am forever grateful.
The whole transplant team at Yale has been amazing, especially my hepatologist Dr. Kim
To. Dr. To started me on this journey and has been there encouraging me every step of the
way. She has answered every ridiculous question I have asked, and offered perspective to
my husband and I during stressful times. The transplant team performs miracles.


My donor, Sophie, is an amazing, genuine, inspiring and selfless person that I’ll never be
able to thank enough. She’s an angel. While my disease had not yet hospitalized me, and
I wasn’t gravely ill at the time of surgery, the cards were on the table and there was no
chance of cure or recovery. Sophie has given me the gift of a chance to grow old with my
family, to be there for all the big and small moments that every parent and spouse imagines
and often takes for granted. Sophie has also spared me, my entire family, and those who
care about me from the reality of experiencing and witnessing the full and agonizing
digression of my liver disease spread out over months and years. For these things I will
forever be grateful and humbled. Organ donors, both living and deceased, are real life
superheroes deserving of the highest levels of our admiration.

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