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GALLAGHER: Spirit Lake teen sees highs and lows on transplant trek

May 28, 2014 8:15 am  •  TIM GALLAGHER tgallagher@siouxcityjournal.com0

ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa | On May 19, Pressley Cochran-Bray blows out the candles, her 14th birthday.

“I got clothes, swim suits, shoes and a new life,” she says.

For a teen, I understand unwrapping clothing, swim suits and shoes.

The gift of a new life? I have to ask.

“I got a liver transplant and a new life,” she explains.

Life’s been a roller coaster the past seven months. Pressley’s father, Bill Cochran-Bray, uses the metaphor detailing the ups and downs since stomach cramps spike this setter in October, at the conclusion of her eighth grade volleyball season at Spirit Lake Middle School in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

Bill and Coral Cochran-Bray, Pressley’s mother, think it might be mononucleosis, or a flu bug.

Tests show an abnormally large liver. On Nov. 15, Pressley goes to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for additional tests. The diagnosis: Hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare liver cancer, especially in children.

The tumor attacks 70 percent of her liver. The family’s only option: Shrink the cancer to stop the tumor’s migration to the lungs. Then, if possible, get a liver transplant.

Pressley starts four cycles of chemotherapy in late November. The chemo works wonders, dramatically reducing the tumor’s activity. When doctors inject chemotherapy beads into her liver in late January, they find zero evidence of the tumor. The discovery accelerates Pressley’s liver-transplant candidacy.

While an older brother, Dru Cochran-Bray, 22, qualifies as a donor, the transplant between siblings slated for the first week of April isn’t needed. That’s because Pressley gets another liver on March 22.

“We understand the liver came from a young adult within the upper Midwest,” Bill says. “Pressley received a pristine liver.”

Pressley stays at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rochester for 10 days. She spends the next four weeks with her mother in Rochester, meeting three times per week with her transplant team.

She comes home and attends the last four weeks of middle school. When Arnolds Park Amusement Park prepares to open around Mother’s Day, officials ask Pressley to take the season’s inaugural ride on the renovated Legend roller coaster.

Being a new transplant recipient, Pressley must decline. Instead, she hits the “START” button and watches her mother and her grandfather, Virgil Cochran, enjoy the ride in her place.

There are other can’ts. Pressley can’t play softball for her Indians this summer. She can’t wake board on the waves of Big Spirit Lake. She’ll have to forego volleyball once her freshman year begins. Bummers, all.

“I’m looking forward to soccer next spring,” she says.

Until then, Pressley takes driver’s education and 30 pills per day. At the end of July she’ll have her four-month checkup, whereupon doctors will take a biopsy of her new liver to make sure it’s rolling along as it should.

“I’m feeling very, very, very (three verys) good,” she says. “It’s weird, everything is working perfectly.”

Considering the past half-year or so, that is weird. Pressley remembers feeling fine shortly after her transplant. Just as quick, she was hospitalized with neutropenic fever. Very, very, very scary.

A high followed by a low. Like a roller coaster, she says.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” her father says. “We don’t take anything for granted any more.”

Pressley Cochran-Bray wishes she could ride The Legend. There’s always next summer. Until then, she celebrates her own renovation, as it were, her own new normal. Celebrates her new life

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