At his two month doctor’s check-up, Dillon was a sweet boy with a big dimpled smile, and the light of his parents’ lives. He was a happy baby who loved watching his older sister dance, laugh and play. But only a few days later, Dillon’s parents Nikki Rances and Billy Patterson would experience a parent’s worst nightmare. After developing a jaundice-like appearance, Nikki and Billy rushed Dillon to the hospital for bloodwork, where he was diagnosed with biliary atresia.
Devastated and scared, the couple learned that this rare disease is a condition that blocks bile flow from the liver to the gallbladder, quickly causing damage and scarring of the liver cells, which results in eventual liver failure. The bad news was made worse after doctors informed Nikki and Billy of the unlikelihood that Dillon would ever receive a new liver – there was an extremely low chance a donor existed that could help.
Many people don’t realize the lack of organ or tissue donors until they are in need of one themselves – and then the staggering statistics are revealed. As many as 18 to 21 people die each day in the United States while waiting for an organ donation that never comes. On the other side, one individual can save up to eight lives by choosing to donate. In Dillon’s case, his odds were against him from the beginning; due to children generally being pretty healthy, a viable liver, if and when it came along, would be in tremendously high demand.
Forever fighting and optimistic through faith and hope, Nikki and Billy savored every moment they had with their baby boy. Sadly, it was not enough. Dillon passed away in the arms of his mother just 17 days shy of his first birthday. Nikki remembers the feeling being so surreal. Cradled in her arms, she smiled and whispered, “You won my son, you really won, you’re free now.”
Although immensely heartbroken, the couple knew it wasn’t the end of their journey. “Keep the love moving forward. All the love that Dillon received, it needs to go to other people,” Nikki recalls thinking. With this mindset, Nikki and Billy created a non-profit organization called Dillon DiLivers Love that builds hope and love, and raises awareness for others. Through their website (www.diliver.org) and Facebook page, they are able to reach thousands of people who are struggling with the same trials they faced. Billy shares, “If I am able to help families in a positive way, and help make their lives brighter, to help them feel more normal, and help bring happiness to whatever we were going through, I will feel as if I’ve done my job.”
Dillon’s passing sparked a revolution of people dedicated to saving lives and giving the gift of sincere love. Through his legacy, many individuals are being comforted and have found hope in a journey that no one is prepared to walk. Dillon DiLivers Love helps others by actively providing personalized aid and support to transplant waiting list patients and their financially-strained families. They also aim to create public awareness on the importance of organ donation through education, contribution and community involvement. Perhaps one benefit that Nikki and Billy never imagined was finding support and developing friendships with parents who are experiencing similar hardships. Nikki says, “The relationships we’ve built by reaching out have changed my life. We are blessed to still be here on earth to help a parent who might lose a child.”
Both Nikki and Billy believe that “with more awareness of organ donation, we can help people have a second chance at life, and while waiting for a transplant, give them and their family hope!” This year, Nikki’s goal is to go to hospitals and offer physical presence as service to hurting families. Billy’s prayer is to have an organ donation “opt out” policy, meaning consent is presumed for anyone who does not formally decline being an organ donor: “I want to be a voice and go to Congress so people don’t procrastinate.”
February is National Donor Awareness Month. It’s important to remember that whether alive or deceased, no matter who you are or what you have, there are always way that a part of you can help someone else. Organ donation is the final gift of love you can give to others. It is a living legacy and a priceless gift. You can also join the movement and help provide support to families going through such a mental, physical and emotional situation. Find out more about Nikki and Billy’s mission and story by visiting their website www.diliver.org or finding them on Facebook at “Dillon DiLivers Love”. Although no longer here on this earth, Dillon remains a symbol of hope for Nikki, Billy and everyone whose hearts he touched.
Natalie Maris & Sabrina Short, Staff Writers