Javier Espinosa – Liver Transplant Success Story

From college senior to liver transplant patient to filmmaker, star athlete, and beyond

A transplant gave Javier a new liver and a new love.

"A transplant gave Javier" flyerIn 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

Javier Espinosa with his wife Shaley. Liver transplant recipient Javier
Espinosa with his wife Shaley

“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.”

Javier Espinosa riding his bikeThe 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.