Some of us say we’d die for chocolate and others of us almost do. Becky Grassinger is a serious chocolate lover who almost lost her life and her devoted chocoholic taste for the sweet treat. And all because she donated most of her liver to a co-worker she barely knew.
I met Becky in June 2017 at a friend’s jewelry party in a local juice bar. That was my first time in a hipster cool all veggie-juice café (and so far my last). While I secretly wanted to add sugar to my carrot-beet-kale concoction that night, I had no idea that liquid veggies were about all Becky could eat.
When others at our table were off eyeing the silver baubles, Becky and I started chatting. I learned Becky was a social worker for the county Department of Human Services. As we sipped on our vegan drinks (I do mean SIP while trying to hide my frowny face), Becky humbly shared about donating 67 percent her healthy liver to Art at work, who at age 46 was failing from an inherited liver disease.
Chocolate Cravings Gone Blah
The September 2005 transplant surgery and initial recovery were a success and Becky’s liver grew back to 85 percent of its original size. But after the organ donation, Becky’s intense daily cravings for chocolate turned to blah. Art, who before the liver transplant could care less about the sweet stuff, now had her liver’s blood sugar capacity and her chocolate affection. But the sweet tooth switcheroo was not Becky’s toughest setback.
Somehow during the transplant operation, the surgeons injured her vagus nerve that helps control the digestive tract. With just two bites of food, her stomach instantly distended and she felt horribly nauseous. Becky eventually lived on only three Ensure® drinks a day and lost over forty pounds from her already slender 110-pound frame.
“I was losing weight consuming seven hundred-fifty calories a day. No longer surviving, I was declining. I literally thought I was dying,” Becky recalls of that dreadful stretch. “Whatever I swallowed would just stay in my stomach. I ate no solid food for nearly three years.”
Endless medical appointments and wearing an implanted digestive pacemaker kept Becky alive but in much misery. That night before I could only stomach a portion of my carrot-beet-kale brew, I took Becky’s phone number and talked about telling her story in print at some point. Later, I kept up with Becky’s story via our local newspaper and was glad to hear that she was still holding steady.
Imagine my surprise a few months ago when I ran into Becky during a hospital pet therapy visit. I didn’t recognize her at first. She looked so young and healthy, and I would never guess that she was now fifty-three and retired. I seriously thought she was in her thirties.
Bit by Bit, Bite by Bite
So a few weeks after reconnecting, I called Becky to hear more of her story of resiliency these last seven years. Refusing to give up on her condition, Becky turned to natural medicine and working with a functional medicine doctor. Gradually, she returned to solid foods and even to her beloved chocolate once again.
Bit by bit and bite by bite, Becky has seen her injured stomach nerve heal, and although she’s not 100 percent, her overall health is much better. She married Scott in 2016, and they start their mornings with cocoa powder in their coffee. Becky also fits in mini-indulgences with dark chocolate throughout the day. After all this girl has been through—even sacrificing part of her own body for an acquaintance—I say she can eat as much chocolate as she wants.
Art and Becky in 2017 at a celebration for organ donors
Now vibrant again, Becky looks back on her organ donation experience with deep conviction. “It’s really, really hard to see God in the middle of a trial, but I think of life as a puzzle and we’re only just this one puzzle piece,” Becky explains. “We only see our life and maybe those connected with us, but God sees the biggest picture, the whole puzzle. Trusting in God and his strength and comfort has been a lifesaver for me.”
For Becky, faith and chocolate are the daily sustenance she can live on and count on. And next time Becky and I meet up, we are planning to skip a juice bar and go for some delectable chocolate dessert. In the meantime, tomorrow morning I will raise a mocha in Becky’s honor for all she’s done to bring life to Art and his family. How about you join us?