ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) Cassie Masters knew something was wrong at the age of 18.
"There was a point there, where I looked like I was eight months pregnant," Cassie said.
Turns out, her intuition was right.
"They found out I had a blood clot in the hepatic vein in my liver," Masters said. "And it was clotted for so long, it was basically destroyed."
"I was one of the first patients that they had up at the Mayo Clinic that was diagnosed with Budd-Chiari syndrome," she recalled.
"I was really lucky to live, is what I was told," Masters continued. "...So, they put the shunt in [my liver] and it acted as my vein for the next 12 years of my life."
Eventually, Masters would need a more permanent fix. A new liver.
"We always knew that, from the very beginning, me and my family knew that a transplant was going to be in my future. I was very hopeful that I would like, 50, when I needed a transplant. But, that obviously didn't happen," she laughed.
In the summer of 2019, the search for a living donor began.
"I started with Facebook and told everybody that it was time for me to get a liver transplant. But, I couldn't get a liver transplant from a deceased donor because I wasn't in critical need yet," Masters said. "So, I spread the word and people started applying."
Mayo Clinic Liver Transplant Surgeon, Dr. Timucin Taner, says it's a problem many people waiting for a life saving organ face in the United States face.
"There's quite a few patients who never get a chance to get a deceased donation, because they don't have a high priority score," Dr. Taner said. "So, even though they are very sick and would likely die because of an end stage organ failure, they don't get a chance to get a deceased donor."
That's where Sam Grant came in.
"I guess I kinda saw her post," Grant said. "She was asking for people to be a potential donor. I grew up with her fiancé, Taylor."
She applied to Masters' call for a living donor.
"I knew I was the same blood type, so I was like like, I'll give it a shot," she laughed.
They were a perfect match. Grant told Masters the news on Christmas Eve.
"The first time that we met was when I told her I was her match," Grant said. She had a family friend dress up as Santa Claus to deliver the message.
"It's going to make me tear up just thinking about it," Masters said. "I don't think anything could be better than that moment."
"Something just told me I should do it," Grant said. "So, I did it."
It was that gut feeling that saved Cassie Masters' life.
"That surgery didn’t work, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” Masters said.
In February 2020, Masters got a second chance. While there was a few complications, today nearly nine months later, she feels, finally, normal again. Something Masters says she hasn't felt since she was 17.
"I feel great, I feel better than I can remember," she said. "I don't even know what normal feels like, this has to be the closest to it."
In the U.S. there are more than 108,000 people waiting for a life saving organ. More than 12,000 are waiting for a liver - just like Masters was.
"Through deceased donation, we are able to transplant about 8,000 every year," Dr. Taner said. "Which leaves about 4,000 without a liver."
"There are people waiting for a miracle to happen," Masters said. "Not a lot of people know about living donation...That really slims down their odds at getting their second chance. Which I think everybody deserves."
Cassie's new found life has given her a passion to be an advocate for living donations.
"Anybody who can be a living donor. I think it is very important," Masters said.
She wants to help others in her same situation.
“I’m able to do things other people may not have been given the chance to,” she said.
To best do that, Masters will start with nursing school this spring.
"My goal is to have my position on a transplant unit," Masters said. "...I want to help give people hope. Because it's possible. Anything's possible."
"Donors are the true heroes," Dr. Taner said. "They are giving life back to a person in need."
Masters says she'll always keep in mind, the hero that saved her. Masters and Grant went from somewhat strangers, to family.
"After the transplant, I couldn't have that wedding without her being in it," Masters said. She and her fiancé plan to get married next summer.
"I gained a pretty close friend out of the deal," Grant said with a smile.
Mayo Clinic is expanding its living liver donation program.
If you are interested in becoming a living donor, click here.