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  • Erica Zervanos

The Transplant Journey: A Sibling's Perspective

By: Christina Zervanos,

Sister of VP, Erica Zervanos: Liver Transplant Recipient

"I was 7 years young when my sister Erica Lauren was born. I named her. I always took pride in that.

She came out yellow. They call that jaundice. I didn't know the term, but what I learned quickly was that it meant nothing good. Quite the opposite, in fact. It meant hospitalizations with an often very dark tunnel ahead. Erica, though, she always managed a smile. I could've taken a note from her book.

"35 years old now, I look back on what I wish someone told me. More importantly, what I would've told myself."

Sometimes holidays end up in hospitals. Jingle Bells is pretty insufferable in the confines of hospital walls, but if you were taking a page from my sister's book, which you should, you'd be singing along, IV in arm.

35 years old now, I look back on what I wish someone told me. More importantly, what I would've told myself.

I would've told myself that fear is to be expected, but anger is inevitable. That confusing the two is painfully common, and pretending it isn't happening will only hurt you. How could I possibly be angry? I hear you. Now. But back then, emotions were like ingredients in a blender, and I didn't know what was what. I would also tell myself that mixed emotions are OK, natural even. But I would preach to own it, discuss it, write it, feel it, sit in it, be uncomfortable with it. It is the only way to deal, and the only way to have honest interactions with your sick loved one.

I've spent decades regretting how I treated Erica. How my broken understanding of her health crisis and the absence of my family affected me. The reality is, she is my best friend. And I owed her more. I would shake the young me and tell her that Erica and I could've been there for one another because she was an infant, a child, a teenager - in pain. And so was I. Everything is relative. Life has taught me you don't have to have the same experience to support one another.

I did do a couple things right, though. Nobody messed with my little sister but me. Steroids really change an appearance, and kids can be cruel. People can be. Bullies are rampant. As a support system to a transplant patient, you need to expect that physical change, and prepare your loved one for it. Assure them their beauty emanates from within and it is temporary. Because it is. And be honest about how the world will perceive them. They already know, so don't deny it. Help them through it. Be the mirror that embraces, not breaks.

Complications happen all the time. Encourage your loved one to know and honor their body. Erica, trying to always keep up, used to ignore signs all the time. Pay attention. Tell them it is okay to go at their own pace because the inflamation, potential hospitalization, self frustration is never worth it.

Have empathy. Don't make it about you because it is not, but also don't ignore your own needs. You are no good to your loved one broken."

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