When Abigail Byington was nine years old, she got a papercut on her knee that wouldn’t stop bleeding.
“I had to go to the ER,” Byington said. While there, the doctors learned that she had Alpha-1.
Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is a genetic disorder in which the body doesn’t make enough of the protein that protects the lungs and liver from damage. Byington had a liver transplant when she was 15.
Byington, a freshman visual studies major, received the Jessica Beth Schwartz Scholarship, which is given to four college students each year who are transplant recipients. Byington plans on using the scholarship to pay for school.
Jessica Beth Schwartz, for whom the scholarship was founded, was a former journalism student at Temple. She received a heart transplant when she was 14 years old and passed away when she was 23 years old before she graduated.
Janice Schwartz, Jessica’s mother, said Jessica was born with a congenital heart defect.
A congenital heart defect is a problem with the structure of the heart and it is present at birth. It is also the most common type of birth defect.
“She had her first surgery when she was 10 months old,” Janice Schwartz said. “A lot of kids have their surgeries when they are young, but not all of them.”
Her daughter went on to graduate from Abington High School in 1998 and spent two years at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She then transferred to Temple as a part-time student. Janice Schwartz started the scholarship fund in Jessica’s name after she passed away in 2003.
“She liked Temple and she was doing really well,” Janice Schwartz said. “She majored in journalism because she wanted to share her story.”
Janice Schwartz said her daughter spoke a lot about the need for organ donors and educating the public as well. They would speak at high schools and fairs about the ethics of organ donation.
“When you have a chronic illness you try to live as normal as possible,” Janice Schwartz said.
Byington said Alpha-1 is hereditary. When Byington was a kid, she said she could function normally, but she would get sick easily.
“When I would get sick it would knock me out for longer, but that’s the only effect I had when I was little,” Byington said.
After her liver transplant, Byington tried to live as normally as possible.
“I was thankful for what I had,” Byington said. “I knew there would be a solution.”
Byington discovered the Jessica Beth Schwartz Scholarship while researching and was referred by her doctor. She thought Jessica’s story was inspirational, but sad.
Michael and Susan Byington, Abigail’s parents, said it is a “blessing” for Abigail to receive the scholarship, but also for the liver transplant as well.
“It hasn’t been an easy road, but Abby has always been strong, brave and independent,” Susan Byington said.
Abigail Byington said she thinks Jessica Schwartz’s story is “hopeful.”
“It’s relatable, but at the same time sad because of the outcome,” she added. “It’s definitely an honor, because Jessie went to Temple and her story is really moving and inspiring.”
Valerie McIntyre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.