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Liver on a Prayer: An El Paso woman’s desperate search to find a liver donor

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- It's a race against time for one El Paso family. The Augustain-Lopez family is urgently searching for a liver organ donor.

The family matriarch is fighting several diseases that are contributing to the deterioration of her liver and overall health.

In the 1990s, Irene Augustain-Lopez was diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease but disregarded the diagnosis.

Augustain-Lopez, who was a teacher for 45 years, said she would occasionally take pain medication, which led to her developing cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a serious disease that leads to scarring of the liver.  
She monitored her liver and would undergo regular MRI checkups.

Just a few years ago, the disease began to worsen. Her family described it as "taking over her body."

In 2022, the El Pasoan was diagnosed with hepatic encephalopathy, which is when a damaged liver is not removing toxins from the blood, leading to impaired brain function. This has significantly impacted Augustain-Lopez's ability to walk and talk at times.

Her family described it as living with someone who is drunk or suffers from dementia.

"I just lose it. I can't remember things. I can't drive anymore. And I have lots of different doctors and doctor's appointments. Like they can’t understand what I'm saying because I'm everywhere. I get very sleepy at times. And then, by the same token, I can't sleep. You lose consciousness of what happens," she said.

Shortly after, Augustain-Lopez was diagnosed with liver cancer—hepatocellular carcinoma. She underwent a procedure to remove the cancer, but it resulted in further liver scarring. Despite surgery, she is still living with cancer, although her doctors have said it's growing at a slow rate.

Her family said the only cure for all of her health problems is getting a liver transplant.

Augustain-Lopez raised three daughters alone after her husband died unexpectedly in a car crash in 1985.

Her family is trying to find her a living liver donor since she does not qualify to be on the deceased donor's list.

The family explained that Augustain-Lopez's has a low MELD score, which is why she can't be on the list. MELD scores are based on lab results; the higher the number, the more likely you are to qualify to be on the list. The family explained, to be on the list for a liver organ, you must score a 26. Augustain-Lopez has remained around the 11–13 mark.

"Learning that even though my mom is sick and we see the day-to-day stuff, she still doesn't qualify to be on the deceased donor's list. So we're, that's why we're so vigilant and trying to find a living donor," said her youngest daughter, Leah Lopez.

Her three daughters were all tested, but no one was a match.

Despite there being at least four other candidates, including two family friends, none were considered good candidates.

"And that's kind of like the I feel like the race that we're in, you know, because we don't want her to get sicker," said Lopez.

But the family isn't losing hope, relying on their faith during this time.

Lopez said she has felt the overwhelming support and love of the community during this challenging time.

"But to know that, like, our whole community is like praying for her and so worried for her and just how much they love her, I think, that has been something that's been very heartwarming. And it makes it makes the journey a little bit lighter, you know, Just a little bit," said Lopez.

As she waits, Augustain-Lopez is working on becoming the healthiest she can be to be able to withstand a transplant.

"And I hope that journey will be soon, you know, to get that donor because I want to do my plants. I want to do so much outside like I used to," she said.

"Our goal is just to keep her as healthy and stable as possible and get her to a transplant, as well as to continue seeking a donor until we have a donor," said Lopez.

Augustain-Lopez is searching for a donor with Type O or Type A+ blood.

The family has created a Facebook group, Liver on a Prayer, as they search for a donor. If you would like to apply to be her donor, click here.

After the family finds a donor, they said they want to start raising awareness about all of these conditions.

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Rosemary Montañez

Good Morning El Paso anchor and reporterf


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