Regardless of what the scoreboard said at last weekend's West Virginia University football game, there's a Texas native cheering for WVU thanks to a lifesaving donation from an Elkins girl.
Nefeterius Akeli McPherson, a University of Texas fan, wore a yellow WVU jersey to the Mountaineer's game against the Longhorns on Oct. 6. The jersey previously belonged to the young girl whose organ donation saved McPherson's life.
"I owe my life to Taitlyn Shae Hughes, my sweet 12-year-old organ donor," McPherson said. "I am proof that organ donation saves lives!"
But the story McPherson wants everyone to hear is about a brave young girl from West Virginia.
Taitlyn's untimely death last year shocked and saddened her family and many friends, but her generosity has allowed her spirit to live on in people she never even met.
John Hughes of Elkins, Taitlyn's father, told The Inter-Mountain he remembers the first time his daughter expressed the desire to be an organ donor.
"When Taitlyn's mother, Nicole Siva, went in to renew her driver's license, Taitlyn asked her what the endorsement for organ donor meant," Hughes said. "Her mother explained if she were to die, her organs would be used to save someone else's life."
Hughes said he and Taitlyn used to go to Dairy Queen for ice cream and would sit and talk.
"We had a conversation and she asked me if I thought I would die young, and I told her I hoped not," Hughes said. "She said she understood, but she wanted to see Jesus. She was very in touch and very aware of Jesus. I am most proud of her relationship with Jesus and what it meant to her.
"Taitlyn asked me if I was an organ donor and I told her I had not signed up yet," he said. "She told me she wanted to be an organ donor if anything happened to her so she could save others. She was only 11 years old at the time.
"You never think you will have to make that decision of your 12 year-old child," he said.
But Hughes and his exwife Nicole did have to make that decision. Not long after moving to Martinsburg, Taitlyn suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage last November. She was taken to the hospital, then transported by helicopter to Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
When her parents were informed Taitlyn would not survive, they remembered her wish to be an organ donor. Her kidneys, pancreas and liver were donated to save the lives of four people.
The recipient of Taitlyn's liver was McPherson.
McPherson said she learned of her health problems shortly after arriving home for Thanksgiving years ago when she was in law school.
"I was eating some leftovers and doubled over with pain," McPherson said. "I did not follow up with my physician, but after two months of attacks, I went for a visit at the Southern Methodist University Health Center."
McPherson said the center called her to come back in immediately.
"My liver enzymes were elevated and I needed to have my gall bladder removed," she said.
McPherson said she had always considered herself to be healthy, and had participated in sports and run track in both middle and high school.
After her gallbladder surgery, the physician told her he found scarring on her liver.
"I was also told I had cysts in my liver and I could possibly have bile duct cancer," McPherson said. "I told the doctors I was a first-year law student and did not have time to be sick. The doctor also said at some point in my life, I may need a liver transplant."
McPherson found out she had a rare bile duct disease called secondary sclerosing cholangitis. She attended SMU Law School and, even through all her trials and tribulations, managed to graduate on time and with honors.
"In a weird way, school kept me sane," McPherson said. "It was like I had a big elephant on my shoulders, but by the grace of God, I did make it through and graduated Cum Laude."
After law school, McPherson passed the Texas bar exam and worked with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk as his press secretary for two years and two months.
"It was a tremendous opportunity," she said. "I was able to travel to places like France and Egypt, learning about import and export trade.
"I noticed that each time I came back from a trip, it was taking longer and longer to recover," she said. "At first I was in the hospital for a day, then two days and then four days."
McPherson said she had a sleeping giant inside of her, and when it woke up, it roared. She ended up at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. and learned her disease had taken on a life of its own.
"On May 18, 2011 I was placed on the transplant list," McPherson said. "I started a care page to tell people about my plight and asked people to pray for me, my donor and my donor's family."
McPherson said she was always cognizant of the reality that someone would have to die in order for her to receive a liver, and that she always struggled with that knowledge.
"It is difficult to be happy when you know some other sweet person has to die to provide you with the liver you need," McPherson said. "I just tried to stay positive and upbeat."
McPherson was on the transplant list for five and a half months before she received the call last Nov. 6.
"My friend and I had talked that night until about 3 a.m. My phone rang at 6 a.m. and I was still half asleep. The call was from the Georgetown transplant team saying they have a potential match," she said. "I sat straight up and was a little confused. Twice before I had been called as a back-up recipient and I thought that's what was happening again. But the nurse clarified that this was my liver."
McPherson said she screamed, yelled, jumped up and down and cried.
"I am surprised my neighbors did not call the police," she said.
McPherson said she kept a bag packed and ready to go. At the hospital, she was greeted by her favorite nurse and members of the transplant team. One of the doctors told her they were getting ready to go to Children's Hospital to get the liver.
McPherson said she realized then that her donor was a child.
"I felt sick and mentally checked out," she said. "How can I be excited knowing my new liver is coming from a child? It was bittersweet."
McPherson said she and the Hughes family have communicated and she and her mother, Katharyn, traveled to West Virginia to meet Taitlyn's family.
"It was very humbling to stand in Taitlyn's room," McPherson said. "Everyone was so warm and friendly. I could see so much of her personality while I was there."
McPherson said before she left, Hughes' mother, Nicole Siva, gave her Taitlyn's WVU shirt from her favorite photo.
"I love the picture of Taitlyn in this shirt looking up at her camera," McPherson said. "She is so beautiful and I think it looks like she is looking to the heavens."
McPherson said the WVU vs. Texas game marked the 11-month anniversary of her liver transplant. She wore the WVU shirt Taitlyn's family gave her to the stadium with pride.
"Nicole encouraged me to wear Taitlyn's shirt and go to the game," McPherson said. "As I went to pre-game activities, everyone asked about my WVU shirt. It was the perfect way to tell everyone about this sweet girl who was from West Virginia and loved the WVU football team, who was an organ donor. I was able to share with others about how I am here due to her selfless donation."
McPherson said many people have responded to learning about her journey and her donor from West Virginia.
"I read one story from a Texas lady that caught me off guard," she said. "The lady said how a WVU fan humbly reinstated her faith in humanity and showed her that there is still good in the world.
"When I was 11 years old, I was only interested in playing with Barbie dolls," McPherson said. "But here was this West Virginia girl who told her parents if anything were to happen to her, she wanted to be an organ donor.
"She wanted to change the world. She was wiser than her years."