Contributed by: Anna Macaluso
At the tender age of ten, I began having gastrointestinal symptoms so severe that I required repeated medical attention. A year later, when the doctor could not figure out was wrong, she recommended a specialist, a gastroenterologist, who diagnosed me with Ulcerative Colitis and prescribed several medications, one being Prednisone.
During a routine checkup at the age of twelve, my doctor noticed that my liver and spleen were severely enlarged. After doing lab work and finding that my liver enzymes were extremely high, he wanted to do more testing, one of those tests being a liver biopsy. Because I was so young, the doctor wanted to see firsthand what my liver looked like, which would mean some serious cutting. My father asked for advice from a liaison committee of Jehovah’s Witness Elders, and based on their recommendation, he quickly put a stop to that idea. He believed such surgery would put me at risk for needing a blood transfusion, which is forbidden by the Watch Tower Society.
Several months later, my father agreed to a liver biopsy by needle. I remember on the day of the procedure one of the elders and his wife were at the hospital. At the last minute my father panicked and almost would’t allow the procedure. Finally, after much pleading with him that I needed to know what was wrong with me, he okayed the biopsy.
The diagnosis was Autoimmune Hepatitis and Cirrhosis of the Liver – the final stage of liver disease – pretty serious stuff.
Throughout my teen years I tried to live a normal life, all the while getting sicker and sicker. I would go back to see my specialist physician on a routine basis, but he wasn’t helping me get better. All he did was adjust my dose of steroids and change my medications. I remember driving myself to the appointments at sixteen years of age and pleading with the doctor, “I just don’t feel right. There has to be something more that you can do for me.”
My parents also told me that a liver transplant was not possible since my body would reject it. I trusted them and never questioned their judgment. I also trusted my doctor and felt that he was doing everything in his power to help me. My father, being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, also made it very clear, again and again, to my doctor and me that he would never allow a blood transfusion.
Later that year I started working in the home of one of my high school teachers. She injured her leg and needed help doing yard work, cleaning windows, and for other odd jobs around the house. During this time, we became close and I began opening up to her about my life and health issues. She could see that I was very ill. Half the time she didn’t make me work at all. Instead she would take me out for lunch and shopping, all the while still paying me for the “day’s work.” I even spent the night with her and her family on occasion to get away from home. Eventually we made tentative plans for me to move in with her and her family once I turned eighteen.
My teacher, Linda, began to realize just how sick I was and that my family and doctors were doing little to nothing to help me. At first, she called my parents to ask for permission to take me to see her doctor. They firmly told her “no” and to stop worrying about me. Linda, being the kind person she was, wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. One day when I was supposed to be working at her house, she decided to take me to see her doctor without my parent’s permission. Normally, a good doctor would have refused to see me, but he did this as a favor for Linda. After seeing me, he decided to do some diagnostic lab work.
About a week later, after staying the night in my teacher’s home, I readied myself for school like any other day. But something wasn’t right. I felt strange and knew that something was seriously wrong. Something inside me was saying that I needed to get help quickly.
I told Linda how I was feeling. She said that she planned to go to school, but that she would call her doctor during first period. About halfway through my first class, my teacher pulled me out to say that her doctor wanted me to go to the hospital emergency room immediately as he was very concerned about my blood work results. I knew I couldn’t tell my parents because they didn’t know that I had seen Linda’s doctor.
Linda’s daughter took me to the ER. Even though I was only seventeen years old and did not have my parents consent, I was admitted into the hospital. I found out later that a minor can be admitted if the ER physician feels it is a “medical emergency.”
At that point, I didn’t realize how serious my situation really was because I had been there before. I thought the doctor would give me a new medicine or change my steroid dose. After all, that’s what had happened all my life. This time, however, I was in for a rude awakening.
I can still remember what the ER doctor told me like it was yesterday. “Anna, you’re going to need a blood transfusion and a liver transplant.” My world started spinning. I started crying like a baby, knowing I had a life-altering choice to make.
I immediately cried out, “I can’t accept a blood transfusion. I’m a Jehovah’s Witness.”
The doctor tried to ease my fears and told me he would try not to use a blood transfusion to help me.
At first I was afraid to call my parents. For starters, they would know I had lied and gone against their wishes that I should not have seen Linda’s doctor. Second, I was afraid they would be angry that I had not called them sooner and allowed my teacher’s daughter to take me to the hospital without consulting them. Third, I knew they would bring the elders with them.
I finally called home and told my parents what was going on. I begged my father that if he came to the hospital to please come alone and not bring any of the elders—one elder in particular. My father agreed, but in spite of my wishes ended up bringing that elder with him anyway.
The one thing that I will never forget is that elder glaring at me while saying to my father – but not to me – “Don’t worry, Anna won’t accept a blood transfusion. She’s a good girl.”
The next morning, Linda came to see me and mentioned that she and her doctor had crossed paths in the elevator. He made it clear to her that I would not survive without a blood transfusion. His exact words were, “I don’t know how attached you are to this little girl, but without a blood transfusion she won’t be here in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.”
When I heard that, I realized I was not willing to die for this religion – especially not at the age of seventeen when something as simple as a blood transfusion could prolong my life.
My parents visited with me later that morning. As they stood at the foot of my bed, I looked directly at them and announced that I was going to accept a blood transfusion. “I am not ready to die—I want to live.”
The only thing I remember was my mom saying, “Jehovah won’t like that.”
Being numb at this point, I don’t remember exactly what my father said except that he would refuse to sign the consent. It was a short visit to say the least.
At that point, a social worker put things in motion to take this matter to court. My teacher and her husband decided they would become my legal guardians and sign the consent for my life-saving blood transfusion. I would move in with them after coming home from the hospital.
Within a few hours I was receiving my first unit of blood. The nurses had hooked everything up before my parents were supposed to return to the hospital. I found out later that they were informed about the court hearing and decided to not show up. I guess not being there made everything easier for them.
After I accepted the blood transfusions, “friends” from the Kingdom Hall began visiting me every day. I even had a close friend from New York fly down to stay with me in the hospital. And, of course, she brought Watchtower and Awake! magazines with her. The particular Awake! issue she carried with her featured an article about not accepting blood transfusions. It was as if they were all trying to convince me that I should feel guilty for choosing life!
When the Witnesses found out that I was moving in with my teacher, they stopped visiting me. They now considered me to be a “bad association.”
After I was discharged from the hospital, the elders began hounding me – insisting that I meet with them for a judicial committee meeting. I refused.
A year later, the elders used my parents as a way to threaten me, telling them that they would have to “disassociate” from me if I refused to meet with the judicial committee.
That particular threat really angered me. I told my parents to tell the elders “they could do whatever they felt they needed to do” – but I was not going to meet with them. The very next week there was an announcement at my old Kingdom Hall that I had been “disassociated.”
I refused to apologize for saving my life. Since then I’ve never stepped foot in a Kingdom Hall again.
I won’t lie and say it was easy. I was a wreck for several years afterwards. However, I can now say that I’m happier than ever and have no regrets. My family does continue to shun me to a degree. Occasionally they will find a loophole so they can speak to me, but it’s on a very superficial basis.
I have two younger sisters who are also no longer part of that cult. One sister was disfellowshipped and the other had never been baptized.
I ended up having a liver transplant in January, 2004. The story above took place in October, 2003. Unfortunately, I had to have a second transplant in May, 2011. But now I am doing better than ever and have never looked back.
I could be bitter about all the suffering I had to endure, but now I feel more blessed than anything. I believe that God gave me a second family as well as a second chance at life. He showed me the way out of darkness and into the light.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The story above is true. While it may seem unique and quite unforgettable, this story actually reflects an unfortunate pattern for many children of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Due to the blood transfusion policies of the Watch Tower Society, many innocent and trusting children have needlessly lost their lives.
Like Anna, they are bombarded with unethical social influences forcing them to make health decisions based on Watch Tower policies that violate their basic human rights. We now share with you a poignant video on this topic, created recently by Marc Latham. We will let his words continue the story for others did not live to tell it themselves. Check it out at: http://youtu.be/-wkWuNTnPNI
Anna attended college at the University of Southern Indiana eight months after her first transplant. She graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science of Nursing. Her first job was as an RN in the Transplant/Surgical ICU at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis, IN. She currently lives in Cincinnati, OH with her fiancé and works as an RN Case Manager.
Anna enjoys reading, writing, traveling, random road trips, and going to art fairs and festivals. She wants to continue to write, maybe start her own blog and eventually publish a memoir.