MORGANTOWN - Texas native Nefeterius McPherson said she is now a "Mountaineer" after receiving the liver of a 12-year-old West Virginia girl and WVU fan nearly one year ago.
McPherson and her mother, Katharyn, attended Saturday's WVU-TCU football game in Morgantown along with the family members of Taitlyn Hughes. Hughes, of Martinsburg, died of a brain hemorrhage on Nov. 6, 2011, at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
At that time, McPherson, 38, was working as press secretary for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. She also was hospitalized in Washington at that time and was in need of a liver transplant. She said she and three others received organs that came from Hughes.
Photo courtesy of Mel Moraes
Nefeterius McPherson was recognized during halftime festivities at Saturday’s West Virginia University football game. McPherson, of Killeen, Texas, received a life-saving liver transplant from 12-year-old Taitlyn Hughes of Martinsburg.
McPherson spoke with students at the WVU Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism on Friday about the importance of organ donations, her close relationship with the Hughes family and her new-found love for WVU.
"I always knew somebody would have to die to save my life," she said. "I wondered if it would be a man? A woman? I never thought it would be a child."
McPherson had been diagnosed with secondary sclerosing cholangitis and had waited five months for a liver transplant. She said she was startled when she heard medical technicians say the liver was coming from Children's Hospital.
"I thought to myself, 'If they tell me this transplant is not a go, that will be OK,'" McPherson said. "It was just too much."
But the transplant was a success, and as McPherson lay in the hospital she came to learn the identity of her donor through the families of the other recipients. Before she left the hospital, she had looked up Hughes' Facebook page to learn more about her.
She noted she was struck by the young girl's beauty and youth, and realized all the things the child would never experience. McPherson said she often cried in her hospital bed thinking about it.
Hughes' family later sent letters to the recipients of their daughter's organs, and this led to McPherson to visit them at their home in Martinsburg.
"It was my first time in West Virginia, and I fell in love with it," she said.
McPherson learned more about Hughes from her family, and she especially appreciated a photo of Hughes they showed her in which she was staring at the heavens - and wearing a gold WVU T-shirt.
The family gave McPherson the T-shirt to keep and take back with her to her home in Kileen, Texas.
McPherson - a graduate of the Southern Methodist University law school - soon learned WVU would be joining the Big 12 conference and playing the University of Texas near her home later in the year.
She attended the game with family members, and wore Hughes' shirt. A side-by-side image of McPherson wearing the shirt and the original photo of Hughes wearing it has been widely viewed on the Internet.
The shirt has now been retired, McPherson added. But she wore a gold WVU jacket to Saturday's game against TCU.
On Friday morning in Morgantown, she approached a woman she saw wearing the jacket and asked where she could purchase one like it. During their conversation, McPherson explained she was a Texas resident in town to speak about being a transplant recipient.
The woman told McPherson, "I know who you are," before she took the jacket off and gave it to McPherson.
McPherson said she has experienced no organ rejection, but she has been hospitalized periodically during the past year for viral infections - most recently in September. But she said her health presently is fine, and she doesn't have another meeting with her transplant team for 6 months.