Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

A bona fide miracle

Moose Lake student celebrates surviving the odds


September 12, 2019

Provided Photo

Dara and her mother holding hands as Dara is hospitalized in a fight for her life.

Dara Beal, 16, was in the fight of her life a year ago. Her liver failed and the doctors didn't think that she would survive a transplant.

Dara is alive and doing very well today because her mother pleaded for the liver transplant that saved her life. Dara just started her senior year in Moose Lake High School.

"It has been a year since my transplant surgery on August 23," she said in a recent interview. "My family and friends celebrated my first Liverversary at a party on August 28 at the golf club with me."

It all started in mid-August 2018 when Dara was not feeling well. She was prepared to go to Lake Superior College under PSEO (Post Secondary Enrollment Options) during her junior year of high school.

"My parents were telling me that I had the flu when I was complaining that I felt sick," she said. "But I could feel that everything was shutting down. I knew that things weren't working. I knew that it was something serious. I didn't want to believe it so I threw that thought away."

Dara was taken to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital on Monday, Aug. 20.

At the hospital, it was found that Dara had liver and kidney failure. She was placed in an ambulance and sent to the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital.

Although Dara and the family did not know it at the time, Dara had Wilson's Disease, a condition where copper builds up in the liver, brain, and other vital organs, according to Mayo Clinic. It affects the liver and the brain.

"I was being poisoned," Dara said. "I remember having really bad hallucinations."

Dara's father, Matt Beal, wrote a journal on Dara's Facebook page to keep family and friends updated and to ask for prayers and support.

"8/22, 3:28 p.m. There is a 50/50 chance that she won't make it to surgery," he wrote. "7 p.m. Things have improved. It sounds like we are on track for a transplant tomorrow morning. They will start before the organ arrives because of Dara's critically ill condition. The procedure is likely to last 8 - 10 hours. This is an extremely high-risk transplant due to her condition but the chance of survival is higher than zero without.

"8/23, 1 p.m. Dara is on full life support and her liver has been removed. The donor liver will be here at 5 p.m. We pray that the liver is viable. There is no turning back. We hope that Dara survives until and during the procedure.

"5:20 p.m. I am pretty sure that Dara's donor liver was delivered by helicopter to the roof on the building. 11:08 p.m. The surgery is complete and Dara has a functioning liver. The transplant went as well as possible. We are halfway there. She needs to survive tonight and tomorrow. We want to bring our baby home."

It was five days later when Dara woke up after the transplant. Her first question was "What is the date?"

When she was told that it was August 28, she said that she started to weep.

"I couldn't believe how much time had passed," she said. "I was going to break out of the hospital. I needed school supplies. My parents told me that it was not my number one priority.

"When they removed all of the tubes, that's when I started to understand that my situation was a lot more important to focus on than school."

Dara spent the next five weeks in the hospital. Her mother, Tonia, rarely left her side.

"Dad went to stay at the Ronald McDonald house and that's where Mom and I went to stay for the following five weeks," said Dara. "I had appointments at the hospital every day."

Dara learned the story about the severely critical nature of her condition.

"When they found out that I needed a transplant, I had 24 to 48 hours to live," she said. "There was a slight possibility that I would live.

"Thirty-two different doctors tried to convince my parents to let me go. They told my parents that they couldn't do anything. There was a 10 percent chance that I would make it to the operating room. My mom pinned one doctor to the wall and asked him, 'What would you do if it was your kid?'

"They took the liver out eight hours before the transplant. I was basically frozen. They went way out on a limb. They took my liver out way before the donor liver arrived at the hospital."

Dara explained that her kidneys had shut down, and her brain wasn't functioning well because of the excess copper in her body before the surgery.

"I was extremely lucky," she said. "Most people have brain damage from Wilson's Disease. My kidneys are fine now too. The tests show that they are in the normal range. Before, there was zero function; they weren't working at all."

Dara recovered quickly.

"Even the doctors were so surprised at how fast I recovered," she said. "Once I woke up and started therapy, I was devoted to getting well as soon as I could."

Since then, Dara has had to visit the hospital several times for other problems related to her condition and still has frequent appointments for checkups.

"The liver is working okay," she said. "There was one episode of rejection in October. They said that was a good thing. They said that I would probably not go into rejection after that."

Dara tried to go to college in the spring semester but, because of her frequent absences due to hospital appointments, her professors advised her to take the rest of the school year off.

This school year, she started her senior year with her class at Moose Lake High School. She said was given credits for her hospital stay and that she is taking classes with the junior students. She will be able to graduate with her class in the spring.

The family has been tested for Wilson's Disease.

"It is a genetic disease," she said. "Both of my parents carry the gene. There is a one-in-four chance that they would pass it on. My brother, Chad, 12, does not have it but my little sister, Ruby, 5, does have it. She is on a special diet. There is a very big chance that my kids would have the gene."

Dara's case was extreme.

According to Mayo Clinic, most people with the disease are diagnosed between the ages of 5 and 35.

Provided Photo

Dara, center, with her parents, Matt and Tonia Beal, at her First Liverversary party on August 28.

"Usually when people get diagnosed at 16, they are not in liver failure," said Dara. "I have met two other people close to my age online that have gone through this. One lives in Guatemala and the other is on the East Coast. It is therapeutic for us to talk to each other. They are someone who can really relate."

Dara has decided on her future career because of her experience.

"My plan is to go into pediatric nursing, preferably in intensive care," she said. "I want to be able to give back. I want to be able to help kids and let them know that I know what they are going through because I also went through it. That's all I will need to make my life fulfilled."

Dara is tremendously grateful for her parents.

"I put them through hell," she said. "I have amazing parents. They are my rock, my heroes. I don't know anyone's parents that are like them. We've gotten closer through all of this."


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