The Sylacauga High School sophomore was born with Alagille syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the liver, heart, kidneys and other body systems. She received her first organ transplant, a liver, as a toddler. In May of this year, Mack underwent a kidney transplant when her only kidney began to fail.
“The medication from the liver transplant led to the deterioration of her kidney,” explained Francine Mack, Brianna’s grandmother and legal guardian. “She was put on the transplant list in February last year, and around May, the hospital called and said they had a kidney with her name on it.”
Brianna Mack’s mother, Tracie Mack, also had Alagille syndrome. She had a liver transplant in 1995 before dieing of colon cancer in 2009. Although the family is familiar with the process of organ transplants, Francine Mack said healing from the most recent surgery was a rocky road.
“The first three weeks were touch and go,” she said. “Brianna had to have a unit of blood every day and dialysis. Then she had a blood reaction to some medication, so it was hard. Now she’s on the road to recovery.”
Six months later, Brianna Mack has been able to cut back on the powerful anti-rejection drugs she needs to keep her body from attacking her transplanted organs. Her doctor’s visits have whittled down to once a month instead of three times a week, and she no longer has to endure dialysis.
“We were blessed,” Francine Mack said. “For more than a year before, we had to perform home dialysis, and that was very, very stressful, because the dialysis alarm would go off in the middle of the night, and you have to figure out what’s going on and all that. As far as Brianna’s life, she doesn’t have to be hooked down 10 hours a night to the machine. She had to do it every night, seven days a week. She’s happy she doesn’t have to do that anymore.”
The quiet, but spirited teenager recently received another gift. She was selected for a wish by the Children’s Wish Foundation, an international organization that fulfills wishes for children 18 and under suffering from a life-threatening condition. Brianna Mack asked for a shopping trip to the Galleria in Birmingham, and her wish was granted last Saturday.
She and her grandmother were greeted by a limousine outside their front door that whisked them away to the mall, where Brianna Mack was given $1,000 to spend on whatever her heart desired.
She spent about six hours shopping and came home with a handheld video gaming system, a variety of video games, clothes and an iPod Touch. With her birthday coming up Dec. 22 and the holiday season in full swing, Brianna Mack called the experience “the best Thanksgiving, birthday and Christmas all in one” in her letter of thanks to the foundation.
“She said she chose that wish because she knew she would never be able to afford all of those items at the same time,” Francine Mack said. “She was very excited about it. They apologized and said, ‘We can only do $1,000 this time,’ and I said, ‘Are you kidding me? That might be peanuts to you guys, but it’s a lot to us to just go and blow.’ That was awesome. It was really, really awesome.”
The Children’s Wish Foundation gives kids something positive to look forward to, she said.
“It’s huge, the way the Children’s Foundation takes care of these kids,” Francine Mack said. “Brianna knows she has a chronic illness, but it made her happy to know she would be able to do these things.”
Francine Mack, who attends and works at First Presbyterian Church, said their faith has carried her and her granddaughter through several difficult years.
“God gives us the strength that we need,” she said. “He puts people in your path that you need to get through these situations. Life is not easy, but this is on my road to Heaven, and that’s how we get through it. I grieve first, and then I get up and deal with it. You have to accept it.”
Francine Mack said it was a trying time for her granddaughter when her mother died, but they have come through it stronger than before.
“We’ve come a long way since I first got custody,” she said. “She was just 12, and 12 is bad anyway with adolescence. It’s really hard on kids, and then she had all this other stuff going on. She became very introverted. It was a lot, but we have a really good relationship now.”
Don’t let Brianna’s shyness fool you, though. The tech-savvy student has big plans to graduate high school, attend Full Sail University in Orlando, Fla., and become a video game script writer. And her grandmother says she has the potential to accomplish all of those goals.
“When she was 6 months old, she would sit on my lap and play on the computer, so almost literally since she was born, she’s been playing video games,” Francine Mack said. “She’s been an electronics nerd ever since, so she’s really good at it.”
Francine Mack said her granddaughter’s health outlook is also a positive one, and they plan to carry on together through whatever comes their way.
“I tell my kids, we’re not going to use this as a handicap,” she said. “Do to your potential; do what you can. Everybody’s got problems, just different kinds. You thank God for what you have, not for what you don’t have.”
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.