A life remembered: The woman who survived 7 organ transplants

AP

TWIN FALLS — Tracie O’Gorman was voted “outstanding student of the year” when she earned her bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University. She traveled through Europe and Africa. And she loved shopping — especially for shoes.

She did it all between hospitals stays where she underwent seven organ transplants and numerous joint replacements.

After a 28-year battle with autoimmune hepatitis, O’Gorman died Dec. 26 at age 47.

The Times-News wrote numerous stories about O’Gorman and her medical struggles during the late 1980s and 90s. Magic Valley residents rallied around her and raised money to help her pay for medical bills.

She made history in 1993 as the first person to ever receive four liver transplants, and through her life, she survived four liver and three kidney transplants.

“She was always like, ‘OK, let’s get it done,’” her mother, Dee Packer, said. Her daughter often said she’d rather be going through it than somebody else.

O’Gorman was 18 when she had her first transplant and 42 when she had her last.

But Packer describes her daughter as upbeat and happy. “She just inspired all of us,” she said.

There were many times when O’Gorman was hospitalized and doctors said she wouldn’t survive the night. But each time, she’d see her daughter sitting up in bed and eating breakfast the next morning.

“She could just be so sick,” Packer said, but would still smile and was upbeat.

Packer recalls one Christmas when O’Gorman found out she would have a transplant the next day.

The family had a holiday dinner and festivities, and then O’Gorman checked into a hospital at 10 p.m. Christmas night to prepare for surgery.

“It was a wonderful Christmas,” Packer said.

Staying positive

As a child, O’Gorman idolized her brother Rodney — who is five years older — and they had a close relationship through adulthood, Packer said. She was also extremely close with her grandfather.

Her birthday was June 4, which usually coincided with Twin Falls Western Days. “It was a big birthday party for her,” Packer said.

After graduating from Twin Falls High School in 1987, O’Gorman studied abroad in Germany and lived with a wonderful host family, Packer said.

O’Gorman was an excellent student and her dream was to eventually practice international law.

But that never happened.

After a short time in Germany, O’Gorman got chickenpox and her body was covered in a blister-like rash — a hallmark symptom of the virus.

The chickenpox, though, was just the start of her medical problems.

When O’Gorman was home from Germany, Packer noticed her daughter’s eyes were yellow one day while they were Christmas shopping. But it didn’t make any sense.

“She was just the picture of good health,” Packer said.

In 1988, O’Gorman was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, which was triggered by the chickenpox. It’s a condition that caused her immune system to attack her own body.

“Her own body destroyed her own liver,” Packer said.

After surviving four liver transplants, O’Gorman found out she needed a kidney transplant. Her mother was one of the donors.

She underwent the liver transplants and one kidney transplant at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. She also received two kidney transplants at the University of San Francisco.

“None of us knew how she stayed so positive,” Packer said, especially since she was constantly in pain.

A life of learning

In her 20s, O’Gorman got married and moved to California with her husband. They later divorced.

O’Gorman lived in Oakland, Calif., and while in San Diego, she helped with cold case files for the San Diego Police Department and was a nanny for a 6-year-old girl.

She loved children, but was unable to have any of her own, Packer said.

Despite her medical challenges, O’Gorman graduated from college with honors in 2002 from San Diego State University.

Packer remembers her daughter as an excellent student with “gorgeous handwriting” who wanted to continually learn.

“She was like a sponge,” she said. “She wanted to read and write.”

After moving back to Idaho, O’Gorman lived in Eagle and then settled in Twin Falls three years ago where she made many new friends.

In Twin Falls, O’Gorman lived with her parents because she needed around-the-clock care.

She was in the hospital a lot, “but never spent a night by herself,” Packer said, and was surrounded by family.

Medical professionals from Nebraska kept in touch with O’Gorman throughout her life, and they became close friends.

That was true of many of O’Gorman’s medical providers, from physical therapists to physicians.

O’Gorman loved holidays and at Christmastime, she’d make sugar cookies to give to employees at her dialysis appointments. She’d make lists to ensure she didn’t forget to deliver cookies to anyone.

She also enjoyed trying out new restaurants. She’d get hooked on one at a time and went back again and again, Packer said.

For a while, O’Gorman ate macaroni and cheese at Noodles & Co. every day. The employees knew her by name and sometimes sent cookies to the hospital or bought her lunch, Packer said.

O’Gorman also enjoyed making cards and was part of a book club. She loved cooking from scratch and watching the television show “The Pioneer Woman.”

Packer said people often asked her how the family coped with O’Gorman’s illness. But it was O’Gorman herself who helped the family cope the most: “It was because she was so positive all the time.”

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