Bella Pacini and her family are setting an extra seat at the Thanksgiving table this year for a complete stranger.
Bella, 14, just received a liver from a deceased donor after years of battling chronic health issues that kept her from living the carefree life of a typical teen.
"She’s [been] given the gift of life," her mother Traci Pacini told "GMA."
“”I hope they know that we thank them every single day of our lives.At just six years old, Bella was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. Later, she was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), a condition that affects the bile ducts.
PSC is typically diagnosed around age 40 and affects men more frequently than women, according to the National Institutes of Health -- making Bella's case a rarity.
"I still remember the day she was diagnosed. It was the worst day of my life. I thought it was a death sentence,” Tracy recalled.
As Bella got older, the symptoms of PSC stayed mostly silent. However in the last two years, Bella’s health declined tremendously, according to her mother.
Bella developed varices, whic is enlarged or swollen veins, and got pancreatitis five times.
As she lost energy, the teen had to give up her favorite sport, swimming.
With the exacerbation of her condition, on Feb. 20, 2019, doctors decided to put Bella on a waiting list for a liver.
"I started worrying about ‘What if she never gets the call?’” Tracy said.
Bella needed an adult liver and the organ waiting list is governed by strict rules and regulations. According to the U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation, 113,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list as of July 2019. Every ten minutes, another person is added to the waiting list and every day, 20 people die waiting for a transplant.
Life on the waiting list for a liverNine months went by and the Pacini family said they didn’t hear at all about a potential liver. In that time, Bella was in and out of the hospital. Her mom said her daughter's eyes had turned yellow; she lost color in her face and 20 pounds. Bella was also always inside, unable to hang out with friends and family.
"To be honest with you, I thought, ‘I hope she’s here for her next birthday,’ Tracy said.
Tracy said she never put her phone down and became obsessed with getting that one phone call -- always picking up the phone even if it was a scam call.
On Nov. 18, while Tracy was out shopping, she finally got the call.
"She said...we have good news. We have a liver for your daughter,” Tracy recalled. "To the salesperson, I was like, 'Oh my gosh! My daughter is getting a new liver' and she was like, 'What?!!'"
After years of waiting and hoping, Bella underwent a successful liver transplant on Nov. 19. Within an hour after the surgery, Bella told her mother that she was already feeling so much better. Color and life returned to her face.
"I’m very grateful for the the liver I have now. I look forward to doing things I haven’t been able to do in a long time," Bella told GMA.
The Pacini family learned that Bella's liver came from a deceased organ donor. Deceased donors can typically donate two kidneys, a liver, two lungs, a heart, pancreas, and intestines while living donors can donate one kidney, a lung, a portion of the liver, pancreas, or intestine, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Tracy said she's grateful to the donor, knowing that the organ came at the cost of another life, and hopes she's able to thank the family one day.
"She's able to live while somebody isn’t able to celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones," Tracy said. "We can’t reach out to them right now nor would I want to. They have to grieve ... But I hope they know that we thank them every single day of our lives and we will continue to do so.”
Bella said she’s sad that the donor is unable to spend Thanksgiving with their family and is thankful “they decided to donate their organs so other people can be healthy again."
Currently still recovering in an Atlanta hospital, Bella and the Pacini family still celebrated Thanksgiving. This year, they decided to set an extra seat and plate for the currently anonymous donor who gave Bella a life-saving gift.
"How cool is it that Bella has a guardian angel living inside of her for the rest of her life?" Tracy said. "I mean that’s pretty cool.”