Continued from page 3

“I loved that salad. I shared it with Christopher. It was so amazing when he came into that room and saw me eating,” she said. “It was amazing to actually be able to chew something and to have different flavors in your mouth.”

But it was too much too soon, and she paid for it dearly. She got peritonitis, a serious inflammation, and had to go back on tube feeding. After that, they took food much more slowly, and she can eat normally now.

She got back on her feet, but struggled for every step.

“You’ve got to look at one small piece: OK, I walked two more feet today. What am I going to do tomorrow?” Wilson said.

The stress of her ordeal took its toll on her marriage; the couple divorced in 2009.

Her courage in the face of extreme personal and physical pain brings universal praise from her doctors.

“What she’s come through is pretty amazing. Not just the surgical and medical aspect but the psychosocial,” Matsumoto said. “Her fortitude is really unbelievable, to go through this at such a young age and to always have a bright outlook on things.”

Wilson went home for good at the end of January 2008. She’s been hospitalized a few times since then to make sure fevers were not a sign of organ rejection. She has had surgeries to graft skin and to connect the transplanted bowel to what remains of her colon so she would no longer need to wear a bag to collect waste. The last of these operations, everyone hopes, was in February.

Wilson estimates that her care cost around $5 million, paid at first by the couple’s insurance plans and then by Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security disability.

She must take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of her life. Her belly is a crazy quilt of scars that her son loves to fling his arms around. He challenges her to Star Wars light saber duels. He begs her to take him to his favorite park, where she threw the ultimate Star Wars-themed party for his fifth birthday in April.

“My life now is pretty normal. I am enjoying spending every moment I can at home with my son,” Wilson said.

She knows she missed much of his childhood, but “she doesn’t seem to obsess about that, thankfully,” her mother said. “We’ve never asked what her life expectancy is now. I’m afraid to ask that question.”

Wilson doesn’t worry about that. In fact, she has a bold goal: to return to work, possibly to the hospital where she went from nurse to patient and, hopefully, to nurse again.

“I think that’s great,” said Scalea, the top surgeon at Shock Trauma.

Wilson plans to take refresher courses this fall so she can return to work, and managers at the University of Maryland “have offered to help me get back to whatever I want to do,” she said.

Story Continues →