History Gift Life Organ Donation
Image copyright Catherine Lane 2015

Sandra made history when she donated a part of her liver to an unrelated little girl who was suffering from Biliary Atresia and had run out of options.


Sandra Johannessen recently shared her story with us. A story that has made history in South Africa. She donated part of her liver to a little girl who was unrelated to her. The young girl was running out of options and desperately needed a transplant.

This is Sandra’s story…

“On the 6th of July 2017, I saved a life by giving a part of my liver to a stranger! Is there anything more rewarding you can do in this world?

My story is a tribute to mothers who have lost their babies because of a disease called Biliary Atresia. Mommies who go on with life, because that’s their only choice. Mommies who leave a part of themselves in the hospital, and who bravely live with the pain so their little children don’t have to anymore. And mostly to the brave little angels who undeservingly got the short end of the straw being born with this disease.

Without really knowing it at first, Carla and I made history in SA by becoming the first altruistic liver donor and recipient. Children have always been close to my heart and even though you read sad stories and often think that you would do anything to help, you never really think you can in this way.

Babies born with Biliary Atresia crossed my path due to an old colleague losing her little girl after a liver transplant in 2015. Her effort to support others through their journey and create awareness for the huge need for organ donors, meant I started following Facebook posts on Biliary Atresia warrior babies. Another parent made a desperate request for a donor to come forward to save his daughter’s life on Facebook. I replied simply because I could possibly help. This father, after getting a donor in their own family, gave my number to Carla Engelbrecht’s mother as a possible donor for when Carla would need it.

Sadly just a few months later, she did. There was never any doubt that if I was medically able to help, I would. I was going to give a mother a chance to save her baby. And I knew I could count on my amazing family to understand and they proudly stood by my decision, despite the risks they were taking.

I had the privilege of meeting that little warrior and her family 5 days before the transplant for the first time. If there were any doubts, they were instantly resolved, her blue eyes crawled right into my soul.

I have absolutely no regrets. She, just like every other ill child, needs a chance and in this instance I could make a difference. Not only to HER life, but also that of her family. There were some risks for me, but not any more so than we take daily by getting into a car or living in this country.

Both the operation and recovery were fairly easy for me. Being fit and in very good health helped for sure. My life was back to normal after about 2 months. I am training again after 8 weeks and will continue to race my crazy races like I did in the past. So no real sacrifice from my side was made, except a few weeks of not having my normal routines.

Emotionally it was hard though, having to watch Carla fighting for her life daily, while spending 7 weeks in ICU and watching her family’s pain. Meeting parents waiting for organs to save their babies lives brings it home and makes it real!

This gave Carla a chance at an improved life, a lifesaving chance in fact! And giving hope to every parent out there who needs an organ for their sick child to be saved, by creating awareness everywhere I go. People around me are talking about organ donation at home and to their families because of this decision.

The thanks received from both parents mentioned above (who tragically lost their babies) was so much appreciated, and for them it’s no consolation that I did this, however it is because of them that I did it.

As for Carla, she not only accepted a part of my liver but stole my heart… A brave little fighter, who kept fighting no matter what life threw at her. I got to carry her through the hospital doors on her way home. Carla, who we now get to watch grow up.

At least once in your life (and after life) do something for someone that can never repay you for! Nothing in life is more rewarding!

Let’s all make the effort to give someone’s loved one a second chance by registering as a donor, but most importantly discussing it with your family so they know your decision was made, long before they are faced with a tragedy and have to make it for you, under difficult circumstances.

One life saved, seven lives to go!

For two little angels, Emily and Divya.”

Transplant Tuesday is an initiative started by Love Life; Gift Life to share the stories about the men and women that have had their lives changed or have changed lives by organ donation. You can find out more here.

Sources: Submitted by Sandra
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About the Author

Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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