Sweet Briar grad's viral photo continues to inspire

Meredith Haga (Sweet Briar College)
Meredith Haga (Sweet Briar College) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

SWEET BRIAR (WSLS 10) - Sweet Briar College graduate Meredith Haga wrote the words "I am here because of an organ donor" on her graduation cap. For her, nothing else could demonstrate the feelings of the day.

The Bristol, Va., native had no idea her cap would be featured in a photo album on the college's Facebook page. She certainly could not have imagined how many people would see the picture.

As of Thursday morning, it had reached more than 1.32 million people, tallying more than 3,600 likes and 9,000 shares.

The attention is mind-blowing to Haga. She was 17 when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that attacked her kidneys. In October 2011, her kidneys failed and she spent nearly a year on dialysis.

"I sat in a dialysis chair and watched my life move on without me," she recalled. "I knew that someone had to die so that I could live."

Kidney transplants can come from a living donor, but that is the less common scenario.

Thirteen people die each day waiting for a kidney transplant and more than 3,000 new patients are added to the waiting list each month, according to the National Kidney Foundation and the United Network for Organ Sharing. On average, it takes 3.6 years before a match is found, from either a living or deceased donor.

Haga was lucky. Not only did she find a living donor, but it also happened incredibly fast. On Sept. 4, 2012, her stepfather gave her one of his kidneys.

"He saved my life," she said. "We never thought I would be able to celebrate my 18th birthday, let alone graduate college."

In January 2013, she re-enrolled at Sweet Briar, graduating just three-and-a-half years later with a degree in biology.

"I realized how short life is," she said. "I knew that life was waiting for me, and I had a purpose."