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Joslynn Mayhew shows her scar from her liver transplant with photos of herself and Keira Christie, her organ donor, from about four years ago in her home in Wheelersburg, Ohio, on Monday, June 7, 2021.
Organ recipients have been at a greater risk during the pandemic due to weakened immune systems. On August 20, 2017 at the age of nine, Joslynn was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a childhood liver cancer. Her cancer was fast growing and categorized as a hybrid because it showed up so late in her childhood.
Joslynn was in her fourth round of chemotherapy and awaiting a liver transplant when Keira passed away. Her organ now lives in Joslynn. Keira was 11 when she died of an asthma attack on the way to the emergency room in her mother’s car, and Joslynn was nine when her received her liver. The two girls looked extremely similar at the time. “The doctors came in after surgery and told us it was a perfect fit. Like they were just putting her own liver back into her body,” said her stepfather Aaron Mowery.
Joslynn and Kiera’s families have been living in a chaotic normal for the past three years. Joslynn fosters a relationship with not only her own family, but Kiera’s parents, her donor family, as well. Joslynn is now able to do anything she wants as the pandemic begins to come to an end. The two families have also been finding a new normal together since the chaos in October of 2017.
Joslynn rinses with mouthwash to treat open sores in her mouth at home in Wheelersburg, Ohio, on Monday, June 7, 2021. Joslynn takes anti-reject medication everyday for Keira’s liver that now inhabits her body, and she used to take oral chemo to prevent the cancer form coming back. Both medications can cause open sores to form in her mouth.
Joslynn rolls her eyes at her mother, Jodi Mowery while she takes her lunch order at the front desk in their family’s auto repair shop called AJ’s Automotive Service in Minford, Ohio, on Monday, June 7, 2021. Jodi told Joslynn that she could not have a hamburger, and Joslynn got annoyed. “Joss don’t know how they cook their burgers, sorry sis, but I don’t know if it’ll be cooked all the way through,” said Jodi.
For people who receive liver transplants, the bile duct that collects harmful bacteria is often left out. Ever since Joslynn’s liver was replaced, she can’t eat any raw meat and has to be careful whenever she has a cut on her body because bacteria could get in.
From left to right: Joslynn, her brother Jaylen Mayhew, her stepfather Aaron, and Jodi have dinner in their home in Wheelersburg, Ohio, on Monday, June 7, 2021. The family spends most of their days together and the kids help out at the family’s shop. “We kept Joslynn close to us after her surgery, and we just got used to always having her around,” said Aaron.
Joslynn feeds the ducks outside in her yard in Wheelersburg, Ohio, on Sunday, June 6, 2021. The cats and the ducks live outdoors because Joslynn’s doctors told her it was safer so that she is not exposed to unknown bacteria.
Joslynn talks to her friend on FaceTime in her bed before going to sleep while a photo of Keira hangs behind her on the wall of her room in Wheelersburg, Ohio, on Monday, June 7, 2021. “One of my teachers FaceTimed me while I was sick, and I love talking to my friends,” said Joslynn.
Aaron, left, and Keira’s father Scott Christie, right, chat during a family meet up while Joslynn embraces her donor mom, Kristy Christie, at a park in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Columbus is a half way point between their two homes.
“The first time we met them, sitting across the table, it was like looking into a parallel universe,” said Aaron. “The night we got the call and found out the liver was going to be a near perfect match, I was happy, but I cried half the night knowing that someone else had lost their little girl.”
Joslynn and her donor parents, Kristy and Scott, shop at her favorite thrift store with her family in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. At the beginning of the pandemic, Joslynn was not able to go into stores because organ recipients have weak immune systems, but now she enjoys the time with her donor parents. When the decision to get the transplant was being made, Joslynn’s biggest request was to have a relationship with the donor parents. “Can I meet them?” she asked. “Can I meet the family where the liver came from?”
Joslynn hugs Keira’s mom, Kristy, after spending the day with her donor parents in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. “I think Keira would have had her sass, even four years ago, they enjoyed the same things,” said Kristy. “I think she would have grown up to be just like her.”
Keira’s father, Scott, wipes off her tomb stone in Stow, Ohio, on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Scott and Kristy both visit Keira’s grave once a week. “Now this is our new normal, we try to stay busy. But we get to see Joslynn live her life. Keira will help her grow up,” said Kristy.