Twenty-one year old Natalie Williams is so full of vibrant energy, it’s hard to believe two years ago she was close to death.

"We were just trying to keep me as healthy as I could be and to last as long as I could with my liver, but ultimately it failed," said Williams.

Born with a childhood liver disease, she was diagnosed at nine weeks old and spent the next 19 years in and out of BC Children’s Hospital.

Her liver failing, she was on a wait list for a liver donation for six months.

"The sicker you are, the faster you get to the top of the list, so it was a relatively short wait but to be in that position, it feels like a lifetime. It was the hardest time of my life," recounted Williams.

She didn’t know if the call would come before it was too late,

"It was a mentally and physically excruciating time. Every time that phone went, you think, 'Is this it?' and you knew that time was running out and so it was a very, just difficult time to be facing my own mortality."

When the call finally came, she had mixed feelings, joy that she would live, and sadness that someone else had died.

"That was, and it still is, one of the hardest parts. I would say the hardest part actually of receiving a transplant is knowing what I feared happening to me has actually happened to someone else," she said.

As a result, she has gone through what is known as "recipient guilt."

"It's just a feeling where knowing that someone else no longer is able to experience all the things that I will be able to," said Williams.

"I'm back at college and I'm going to get married one day and I'm going to have kids and that that was taken from someone else is a very difficult thing to comprehend, especially when you've faced it yourself. I just feel so sorry that he didn't get the lifetime that I now will get."

Williams knows her donor was male and about her age, but nothing more. She hopes one day she’ll be able to meet his family.

"I would like to know about him, I would like to know his name. I know that's a lot to ask considering they've given so much."

It is a long process to make that happen. The identities of both recipient and donor are kept private, so both sides have to agree to have their identity shared.


Natalie Williams is now thriving after her liver transplant, and went skydiving to mark the first-year anniversary of her transplant. (Submitted)

In the meantime, Williams is living life to the fullest.

Inspired by her ICU nurses, she is going to Camosun College in hopes of becoming a nurse herself.

Williams is finally able to travel and has thrown herself into physical activities which were limited before the liver donation.

"I did the Canadian Transplant Games last year and I actually did road biking and swimming and I won three gold medals," she said, with just a touch of amazement at everything that is now possible.

National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week runs from April 21-27.

According to BC Transplant, over the last couple of years, there has been a marked increase in the number of people registering to be organ donors. 

The Green Shirt Day initiative, in honour of Logan Boulet, has had a huge impact. Boulet’s family donated his organs after he was killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash last April.

About 28 per cent of British Columbians have registered to be donors, so there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Williams is hoping sharing her story will help get more people to consider registering at BC Transplant's website.

"I know it is so difficult to face the fact of your own mortality but people out there on the waiting list are doing it and in our own passing we can help benefit eight lives, so I think that's a really extraordinary thing to be doing to be giving someone like me a chance to grow up."