FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Lying in her hospital bed, waiting for the liver and kidney transplants that would save her life, Felicia-Lenette Mallory knew she had a choice. She could either let the illness and frustration take over, or she could have faith that everything was going to be OK.
"I chose to remain positive," said Mallory, the education and instructional technologist at Fort Jackson's Pierce Terrace Elementary School for more than 12 years. "I have a new lease on life now -- and it's because of my faith that I was able to make it."
After struggling with liver problems for 10 years, Mallory became very ill and was admitted to the Charlotte Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., to await a transplant in September 2012. Once at the hospital, she learned her kidneys had begun to fail, as well. Being 49 years old, Mallory knew she was not at the top of the organ transplant list, but she chose to remain hopeful.
"From my room I could hear the helicopters when they came in, and every time I heard one, I would say, 'They're bringing me my liver," she said.
The positive thinking paid off. Mallory received all three organs in November 2012 after only three months on the transplant waiting list.
"That was truly amazing, because people wait for years," she said. "A lot of people think that because you're older you can't get an organ, but it can happen."
Grateful for the new organs and her renewed health, Mallory left the hospital with a determination to live her life to the fullest and use her experience to inspire others.
"I didn't want to go through that," she said. "But I learned so much from it, and now I'm glad I went through it. I learned something from it -- it makes you want to love life. And now I feel so energetic and motivated."
Sheila Evans, who has been the school nurse at Pierce Terrace Elementary School since 1995, said Mallory's ordeal became a transformation.
"Before the transplants, she was always very fatigued, and she became too weak and sick to be at work," Evans said. "She returned to work in March, and what a world of difference -- she's a whole new person. She has so much energy now."
Mallory has been putting that new energy to good use. Since her recovery, she has become an avid walker -- walking daily for exercise, participating in local 5Ks, and conducting a fitness class at Macedonia Baptist Church in Camden, where her husband is the pastor. She even organized her own event, the First Ladies Faith Fitness Walk, which took place on May 4, to raise funds for the church's building project.
"You do better after you've had something like this happen," she said. "Life is better, so you do better with family, with everything -- you're definitely more intentional."
Mallory said she hopes her journey will inspire others not just to be active and healthy, but also to have faith through their own health struggles. She said there were many factors in her recovery -- the quality care of her doctors and nurses, her husband's constant company and support at the hospital, and the encouragement of her family and friends. However, she also credits her state of mind.
"There were days when I felt frustrated," she said. "But I had to choose to stay positive. I prayed a lot, which was very helpful, and it's good to laugh, too. It helps -- it builds you up to just enjoy yourself and have a good time. You just have to be patient and have people to encourage you to keep going. Don't stop your life, and know that there will be life after this."
Another important message Mallory wants to share with others is the importance of becoming organ donors. "Make sure you are on the donor list," she said. "Think about that -- another person can go on because of you and that gift."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Organ Donor website, the most important thing to do to become a donor is to sign up as an organ and tissue donor in your state's donor registry. Secondary steps include designating your decision on your driver's license, informing your family and friends about your donation decision, and including organ donation in your will or living will. For more information about organ donation, visit www.organdonor.gov.