• By Kevin Sullivan

College athlete undergoes liver transplant while infected with COVID-19

February 10, 2021

Jaleezia Gibson, a 19-year-old college student and track athlete from Pennsylvania, was in her dorm room at Minnesota State University, Mankato, when she began feeling poorly. After two days of nausea and vomiting, she called 911. Soon thereafter, she was airlifted to Mayo Clinic from the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. She had severe liver failure. And COVID-19

Dr. Julie Heimbach, chair of the Division of Transplant Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, says the team had to make the difficult decision as to whether to proceed with a liver transplant when Jaleezia, who was gravely ill, was infected with COVID-19.

"Jaleezia's kidneys had shut down, so she was on hemodialysis. She was on a ventilator that was breathing for her and in a coma because of her liver failure," says Dr. Heimbach. "We had to make a decision very quickly with little data to guide us, but our teamwork, especially with infectious diseases, critical care, hepatology, anesthesia, and transplant surgery, made it possible for us to proceed despite her COVID-19 diagnosis."

In doing so, Jaleezia is thought to be the first patient at Mayo Clinic to undergo a liver transplant while infected with COVID-19.

After two months of recovery and therapy, the young sprinter not only survived, but also her determination and strength inspired the teen's health care team. Dr. Heimbach calls Jaleezia's journey to recovery "remarkable."

Watch: College athlete overcomes COVID-19 with liver transplant.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video natural sound pkg (2:52) is available in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy: "Mayo Clinic News Network." Read the script.

My body would just feel like it was just shutting down. So I called 911. And then they came, took me to the ambulance and then the helicopter," says Jaleezia.

"Do you have to go pack up your dorm when you leave here," asks Shanna Britt, who is one of the first therapists who worked with Jaleezia.

"Miss Gibson came to us with severe liver failure and her diagnosis also, unfortunately, included that of COVID," says Dr. Heimbach.

"And here's the parallel bars, my first time."

"We had a little bit of an audience."

"I know. We did a lot, especially because for a while there, too, you were so weak that we didn't do a whole lot. And then all of a sudden you just took off."

"I've been doing boxing, stairs, the bike, squats, balancing, strengthening ― all strengthening stuff to make my legs (and arms) stronger."

"Having to recover from a transplant, essentially, you know, just with your family, I know by your side on the phone, but not able to be with you, you know, taking the steps with you down the hall, that all has to be with physical therapy. They have been remarkably supportive for her, and really the whole team that has helped her to recover. It's been fantastic," says Dr. Heimbach.

"You just did stairs without a handrail. And we're over here like on the verge of tears because we're just so happy and excited for you," says Shanna.

"And, really, the personal fortitude that it takes and the attitude that it takes is remarkable and inspiring," says Dr. Heimbach. "And Miss Gibson is very remarkable. And her attitude is so impressive. And it really speaks to the fact that she has been able to recover so quickly and is pushing herself to be where she is today. And to be honest, she actually had liver disease, and she was functioning at a very high level without even knowing it. So I have an expectation that she has unlimited potential in the future." 

"Right here, she's walking for the first time without a walker or anything around the nursing unit," says Shanna. "I think I could speak for all the therapists in our office that worked with Jaleezia, as she was honestly the shining light and a lot of our lives during this time because she was just so positive."

"All of us are really hoping that you can get back to that high-level sprinting, and considering in the last month the amount of progress that you made, I really do think that it's possible. It's going to take a while for you to get that endurance back. But otherwise, I think hope's is just that she's happy and healthy, and lives an awesome life ― and hopefully you will call us in a few years and let us know how she's doing."

"I will. I'm looking forward to gaining my strength back to be able to run again and eventually make the Olympics or something," says Jaleezia.


For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a nonpatient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

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Feb. 4, 2021- Mayo Clinic COVID-19 trending map using red color tones for hot spots
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