RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It was a gift that came as the clock seemed to be winding down.
For Weldon Bradshaw, the fight started in 2009, when he was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a liver disease. The coach and teacher at the Collegiate School continued to push through even as his health started to decline.
"I was on the transplant list 41 days. There would not have been a day 42. That's how sick I was," said Bradshaw. "I chose to look at it as the symptoms were getting more intense, tomorrow will be better, tomorrow will be better."
Doctors at VCU Medical Center told Bradshaw that a liver transplant was the only option for his survival. He remained strong, not telling his athletes and many around him.
"That's the way I've coached athletes along the way, to keep looking forward deal with the adversity, deal with the challenges, respect your opponent, respect the weather respect your terrain," explained Bradshaw. "But never fear them. I just had to take it to a level I could never have imagined."
By 2012, jaundice, weight loss, and fatigue were attacking Bradshaw's body. The symptoms were getting more intense by the day.
"When we started cross country in the fall of 2012, I knew I was not going to get through the school year without a liver or dying," he said.
Only pushing him to fight harder, smiling through painful days, because for the husband, father, and grandfather, giving up was never an option.
"My mantra became I will dance at Grace's wedding. I will absolutely dance at Grace's wedding," said Bradshaw.
To dance at his granddaughter Grace's wedding, to make it to 50 years of marriage with his wife Emily, even when the prognosis seemed grim, Bradshaw held on to hope that tomorrow would be better.
In November 2012, when he was admitted to the ICU, Bradshaw's doctor at VCU Medical Center told him he had one week to live. If they could not find a liver donor match, he could die. So he waited, as each minute, hour, and moment passed, so did the days without a new liver, until the clock hit 2 a.m. on the sixth day.
"I will never forget her words. They were, 'Dr. Fisher has approved a liver,' " said Bradshaw.
The liver came from an 84-year-old woman from North Carolina who had a stroke. The team at VCU, flew to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina to retrieve the liver and save Bradshaw's life.
"The liver was described to me as being in pristine condition. You know, what are the odds of an 84-year-old liver being in pristine condition, much less at the very moment I needed it?" he said.
Given just seven days to live, right on time, when time itself seemed to be running out, Bradshaw won a race he never expected to run in. Today, he and his 88-year-old liver are healthy. Bradshaw, now a patient advocate who works with UNOS, is spending time with those awaiting transplants.
"I go down there to cheer people up, invariably I leave there so inspired by their stories, their heart, their soul," he explained.
His survival has given him a newfound purpose, one he plans to continue to pass on.
"I don't feel like she lived her life to save me. I feel like she lived the life she did, for me to take that baton from her to pass it on to whoever comes next," said Bradshaw.
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