From college senior to liver transplant patient to filmmaker, star athlete, and beyond
A transplant gave Javier a new liver and a new love.
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On the night of his 22nd birthday, Javier had no idea it might be his last. A healthy and active SMU student, he was suddenly in critical condition with his mom driving in search of a hospital. They saw the shining cross atop Methodist Dallas Medical Center as a sign of hope. Racing the clock, transplant physicians quickly diagnosed Javier's failing liver as he fell unconscious. He awoke a week later with a new liver and a new lease on life.
Today, Javier will tell you he couldn't have made it without those doctors. His fiancée, Shaley, will tell you she couldn't think of life without Javier.
Liver transplant recipient Javier Espinosa with his wife Shaley
In January 2007, Javier Espinosa was living the life of a healthy, active college student at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. He was looking forward to graduating and pursuing a career in film. Just one month later, on his 22nd birthday, Javier found himself in the emergency room of Methodist Dallas Medical Center, seriously ill and awaiting a liver transplant. Since that day he has become a passionate advocate for organ donation and has combined his lifesaving transplant experience and filmmaking talent to help other transplant patients.
From a birthday celebration to a bilirubin test It wasn’t the birthday celebration Javier had envisioned as he made his way to the campus clinic after suddenly becoming ill with what was first thought to be mononucleosis. “After my condition kept getting worse and worse, we contacted a family friend who is an infectious disease specialist,” Javier says. “She advised me to get a blood test. That’s when we found out my bilirubin level was off the chart, a possible sign of liver disease.” Javier was advised to go to a hospital immediately.
Diagnosis and liver transplant surgery
"As we crossed the Trinity River, we saw the cross atop Methodist Dallas. We felt it was a sign. That's where we stopped." — Javier Espinosa
“My mom was in town for my birthday, so we hopped in the car and just started driving,” says Javier. “As we crossed the Trinity River, we saw the cross atop Methodist Dallas. We felt it was a sign. That’s where we stopped.” Alejandro Mejia, MD, an independently practicing transplant surgeon on the medical staff at Methodist Health System and The Liver Institute at Methodist Dallas, broke the news to Javier that he needed a liver transplant. That was the last thing he remembered until he awoke from his transplant. His birthday was Feb. 6. He woke up on Feb. 12.
Recovery and moving on with life After a fast recovery, Javier went back to school and graduated three months later. Eight months after that, he started his own production company, Stream Switch Studio.
Then he went on to meet his next challenge. “I had learned about the annual U.S. Transplant Games sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation, and I decided to enter the cycling competition,” he says. “I didn’t think I had a chance. I was just trying not to get last place.”
The other cyclists had fancier bikes, but what propelled Javier were the memories of his transplant experience. “The whole time I was racing, I just kept thinking of what I had been through that year — everyone and everything — and that’s what kept me going,” he says.
When the race was over, he had won first place and had a new direction for his life. “I knew I wanted to do something that involved filmmaking, but I didn’t know what until then,” says Javier. “Suddenly it all came together.”
A bright future Since his liver transplant, Javier has produced videos for various fashion brands but has always felt he had to give back to the donor, donor family, and the transplant community that gave him everything. He started an organization called Pledge Life to raise awareness of organ donation in the U.S. He has also created patient education videos to help transplant patients at the Transplant Institute at Methodist Dallas. “My goal is to promote organ donation and healthy living for people of all ages,” he says.
Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff, including those practicing at The Liver Institute at Methodist Dallas Medical Center and the Methodist Dallas Transplant Institute, are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System or any other affiliated institution.
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