Darla Zary was a typical Humboldt, Saskatchewan teenager–highly active in music, drama, art and competitive sports.

But, if you looked a bit closer, you’d notice the frequent nose bleeds; the “butterfly rash” on her face and feet during the summer that made walking and standing difficult; the head to toe bruising from time spent swimming. Hardly typical.

After undergoing a battery of tests, doctors suspected lupus, auto-immune hepatitis, and strikingly low platelets. Doctors gave Darla a prognosis of three to five more years without a liver transplant. Her parents were devastated.

Darla’s symptoms worsened, physically and mentally. “I felt my world enclosing,” she reflects, having to give up many of her social and physical activities.

However, her illness did not prevent her from moving to Vancouver for post-secondary schooling. Coincidentally, Vancouver General Hospital started its liver transplant program at nearly the same time. By then, a liver transplant was imminent and she was placed on a wait list for nine months for a suitable organ.

Darla still recalls meeting her transplant team, consisting of Dr. Charles Scudamore, Dr. Siegfried Erb, and later Dr. Eric Yoshida, Dr. Urs Steinbrecher and others. “I remember touring the blood bank at VGH, where they had blood continuously on hold just for me. Every precaution was being taken by my transplant team. I was left in awe,” she said while she waited for her surgery.

At age 24, Darla was given a new life even though her liver had less than 7% functionality and was the size of a shrivelled grapefruit. Although Dr. Scudamore described Darla’s surgery as “textbook perfect”, her recovery left her vulnerable to medications, viruses, and she re-adjusted her life to one of courage, not fear.

Darla was one of the lucky ones – her post-transplant survival is remarkable. Over the past 20 years, liver transplantation has evolved in BC from a procedure considered experimental to standard therapy for patients with end-stage liver disease. Today, there are more than 1 million people registered on BC Transplant’s Organ Donor Registry and the number of transplants – not just for liver organs – has steadily increased. More than 6,000 transplants have been performed in BC and 95% of British Columbians support organ donation.

2016 marks Darla’s 25-year anniversary of her liver transplant and her 50th birthday. These days, you’ll find her painting at her home studio, at Granville Island’s Public Market selling her “soul paintings”, and teaching transformational and healing art at Ocean Breathe Yoga Studio.

One of her art pieces sits in Dr. Scudamore’s office as a personal memento of gratitude and she donated a canvas (My Soul’s Garden) to the hospital in gratitude to the physicians and health care team at VGH. This highly personal piece of art reflected a self portrait of my soul, reflected Darla, and represents the complete circle of giving.

“My life today is filled with joy. When I go for my yearly check-up, it’s like a reunion with my angels,” Darla said on a recent visit to VGH. “I have never met the donor of my liver, but for all the open hearts of organ donors and their families, I am so very grateful. Because of you and the incredible care of the VGH team, so many lives – including mine – have been transformed.”