In the Pursuit of a Dream

Brittany Sullivan can’t play the game that she loves – not right now.

But she studies it. She stays conditioned. She coaches kids – right now; she hopes to coach NBA players someday.

She keeps her players focused. They keep her strong.

Sullivan relies on basketball to keep her going while she’s waiting for a chance to get a liver transplant.

When she was 16, Sullivan, who worked as a coach for the Thunder Youth Basketball Camp last week, found out that she had an autoimmune liver disease – one that causes her body to attack that organ’s healthy cells.

Basketball, which she describes as her “number two passion” (right behind going to church), has been interwoven with how she has spent the eight years of her life since her diagnosis. As she tells of the ups and downs of having a disease that is causing her liver to fail and her fight to remain steadfast, basketball always seems to play a part in the story.

Following a big basketball game in high school, Sullivan found out she got an MVP award from her team, but when she told her mom that news is also when her mom told her about the liver disease. She got a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Arkansas, but had to red-shirt because the doctors wouldn’t let her play contact sports anymore. Even though she’s unable to work, she has found opportunities to coach, but has been warned to be careful due to an enlarged spleen.

“If I get hit the wrong way in my spleen, it would cause me to bleed to death due to my blood-clotting factors,” she stated.

Sullivan speaks evenly and matter-of-factly about her condition, as well as about her dreams. Regardless of the trajectory her life seems to be taking at any given moment, she knows things can change in an instant – for better or for worse. Sullivan’s steady focus throughout this ordeal reminds her doctor of that of a soldier.

“I keep a smile on my doctor’s face; I keep them uplifted,” Sullivan said. “From when I was 16 ongoing to when I’m 24, I’ve changed so much in keeping going – they look at me like, ‘We can’t believe that you’re sick.’”

But not even the strength of her attitude, her family or her faith can change the fact that Sullivan is sick. She has gone into the last stages of her liver disease and is waiting – along with thousands of other people – for a liver transplant.

That strength has kept her going for this long, but Sullivan needs a new liver soon. After being hospitalized last May and experiencing severe blood loss, doctors told her there were no other options for the long term. “What’s keeping my liver actually pushing are two stents … because I lost so much blood and I’m in my last stage (of liver failure),” she explained.

“It’s in my mind every day – OK, I can’t live the life of an average 24-year-old … But I just keep going.”

It’s not an average life, but then again, not many 24-year-olds have been told that they wouldn’t live to see their twenty-fourth birthday.

“I turned 24 on January 6, and I’m still going. And I’m going to see 25.”

Sullivan has more than just basketball to keep her focused and keep her going, but the game that is so wrapped up in her visions for her future clearly plays a big part in helping her stay strong.

She has to stay strong to endure the wait. She has to keep her dreams alive until they can come true.

“My doctor always tells me, ‘Brittany, you’re the only one who comes to my clinic with your head up.’ And I tell him, ‘I got to.’ I have too much to live for …

“I have kids that come to me and expect me to bring them the game of basketball – and that’s what I live for.”

While Brittany Sullivan is waiting for a liver transplant, she is also raising funds to help alleviate the costs of the surgery. You can find out more about her fundraising efforts by visiting the National Transplant Assistance Fund.