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Arkansas woman credits COVID-19 vaccine after receiving new liver transplant

After being diagnosed with liver disease, Tara Farris's journey on the organ transplant list has been made more difficult with COVID-19 impacts in Arkansas.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — While on the decline, the hundreds of largely unvaccinated COVID patients still add complications to non-virus related procedures, including the process of getting an organ transplant.

And Tara Farris knows that all too well.

She's been battling stage 3 liver disease and has been following strict COVID precautions while on the transplant list. "If you want to come see me, you have to be vaccinated, you have to have your shot, you have to wear a mask"

But her liver donation doesn't just depend on her precautions. 

UAMS reported that as of right now, possible donors that test positive for COVID or die from complications of the virus, cannot donate.

Dr. Lyle Burdine, a transplant surgeon for UAMS, has seen the complications first hand. 

"Before they come in, we've got to make sure that donors don't have COVID," he said, "One in 500 Arkansans have died from COVID. So you can imagine that there are donors that test positive or end up dying from the disease... it certainly affected the donor pool."

The impacted donor pool also comes on top of already strained resources due to COVID care. Dr. Burdine shared that in order to keep the transplant running smoothly they've used, "extra staffing, extra rooms, sort of providing them with sort of an area of the hospital where they're not necessarily coming in contact with patients that have COVID."

UAMS has been able to work hard and keep transplant wait times relatively low.

Including Tara's, where after months of going through the donor process, she got the call last week. 

"They're like, no, it's your liver. And I was like, Oh my gosh, and so I was so excited," Farris said.

And last week giving her a new liver, and a new lease on life. "Now I can, hopefully be able to live to see you know, all get married and have kids and grandkids," she added.

She hopes active cases and hospitalizations will keep going down, making the transplant process easier for everyone in need. "I would highly recommend people to get vaccinated. I mean, it could save someone's life, totally saved a life. I mean, it saved my life."

Tara is recovering well and is hoping to go home later this week. And as her immune system is severely suppressed, she's planning to stay home and recuperate and keep following strict COVID prevention measures, for the time being.

Dr. Burdine said that as research develops, he hopes they will be able to expand donor eligibility in the future to possibly include asymptomatic COVID patients to donate organs as well.