WRITTEN BY: ZURI HOFFMAN
Most freshmen aimlessly enjoy the college life – attending classes, strolling through campus and partaking in weekend activities. Abby Byington, on the other hand, is extremely grateful for it all.
At the age of 9, Byington was diagnosed with the chronic illness Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. This disease impacted her liver, leaving her with conditions such as constant fatigue and a weak immune system.
“I just couldn’t keep up with normal kids my age,” Byington said.
Since her diagnosis, Byington and her family knew she would eventually need a liver transplant. Unfortunately, the odds of her receiving one were extremely slim. Family, friends and neighbors went through the process of being tested as a match. There are more than 120,000 people in need of an organ donation. Nearly 22 people die each day waiting for one. Luckily, this was not the case for Byington. With the support of her family and friends, she was able to beat the odds, receiving the donation she needed in 2013.
“It just happened that there was a match, a good candidate for me at the time and it just happened that no one else fit the list before me, so they moved the donor on to me,” Byington said. “They have a scale of who needs a liver the most, so your number on the scale can go up or down depending on your need for an organ. I was definitely sick and sicker than I was as a child, but it wasn’t as bad as some people have to get before they get an organ.”
Byington spent two to three months of her freshman year of high school in recovery. Four years later, she continues to live by the same positive philosophy.
“I don’t take things for granted like I think some people do and they don’t even realize it that they are,” Byington said. “I do have a very different outlook, I am very aware of things that some people my age aren’t because they haven’t been through something like this. I am just extremely grateful.”
A Visual Studies major in the Tyler School of Art, Byington is currently receiving a scholarship funded by the The Jessica Beth Schwartz Memorial Scholarship Fund, in partnership with the Gift of Life Donor Program. The scholarship was created for transplant recipients receiving higher education. Since 2002, the fund has awarded over $100,000 to 45 local high school graduates.
The scholarship is named in honor of the late Jessica Beth Schwartz, who was also a student at Temple University, as well as a heart transplant recipient. Jessie’s Day is an annual event in honor of Ms. Schwartz, and will take place at the Independence Seaport Museum on September 25, 2016 from 1-4 p.m.
As one of this year’s scholarship recipients, Byington plans to attend the event. She describes Jessie’s story as “inspiring.”
Byington also participates in the Gift of Life Donor Dash, another one of the many ways she tries to bring attention to the necessity of organ transplants.
Abby Byington’s extraordinary journey makes her a unique individual, but at the end of the day, she’s just happy to be living a normal life that wasn’t always guaranteed.