The Times West Virginian

March 21, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Honorary Mountaineer smiles until the very end

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — She came into our lives out of nowhere in the fall of 2012, wearing a smile the size of her native state of Texas and bearing an even bigger gift — the gift of life.

Her name was Nefeterius Akeli McPherson, and until then she was among the unknown masses, a 37-year-old graduate of SMU who had become a lawyer working in the Obama administration and one of countless football fans, her passion being for the University of Texas.

She didn’t ask for fame, not the way she got it, coming down with a liver disease that was going to kill her, right up until she received a phone call on Nov. 6, 2011, one that brought her to Georgetown University Hospital because doctors had found a liver for her.

In a column in October of 2012 we told you the details of how she learned that the liver she was about to receive was that of a child, a wonderful West Virginia 12-year-old named Taitlyn Shae Hughes, who had gone to bed a couple of nights before in severe pain from what she and her parents thought was a migraine but instead was a brain hemorrhage.

She never woke up.

The story of the transplant and what transpired later, the meeting between Nefeterius and Taitlyn’s mother, Nicole Siva, of how the two had seemed to become one, brought together by this wonderful little girl who had in good health expressed a wish to donate her organs if that should ever become an option, of how Nicole had given Nefeterius a West Virginia T-shirt that Taitlyn had loved and how she came to the Mountaineers’ game at Texas wearing the shirt in honor of Taitlyn’s memory … reading that story over had the man who wrote in tears once again.


In part because it is nearly impossible not to feel such strong emotions over the events as they took place, over how this little girl saved Nefeterius’ life and now Nefeterius had gone on not only to honor her, but to become an activist for organ donations around the country, her story spiking donations within the state of West Virginia and far beyond.

But that was only part of it, for on March 8, a little over a month ago, Nefeterius’ Twitter account carried the following tweet:

Remember that no matter how bad you may feel today, there is someone somewhere who feels much worse than you. #perspective

And then, on March 12, there was this posting:


I went in for one surgery only to wake up hours later and told that a large tumor that is cancerous is growing like crazy in my abdominal area. I couldn’t cry when I received the news. All I could do was stare straight ahead. Then my family showed up and showed out today, and put a big SMILE and put. My Uncle Ken gave me this lovely fiesta

There was a picture that accompanied the post. Nefeterius lay in her hospital bed, a tube running to her nose but that smile lighting up the hospital room – no, the entire hospital itself – the fiesta her Uncle Ken had brought her on her head, a stuffed monkey snuggling with her on her left shoulder.

Then on March 20, yesterday, the first day of spring, came the news that Nefeterius Akili McPherson had died.

What do you say?

What can you say?

Certainly all the RIPs that flooded her social media accounts told the story of the way she touched the world around her.

A sample or two:

Rhonda Stover Kilian: I am so sorry to hear this ... I was a living liver donor and that was our connection ... Organ Donation ... God Bless her family and it so sad she was called home so quickly and at such a young age ... But boy did she make a difference in her few short years on Earth...

Stefanie Hyett: Thanks for all you have done for organ donation and honoring Taitlyn. Forever a Mountaineer.

Forever a Mountaineer … indeed, for Nefeterius Akili McPherson was made an honorary Mountaineer as she kept Taitlyn Shae Hughes’ memory alive and spoke and wrote and traveled creating more and more organ donors, people offering the gift of life that she had received.

She had been made an honorary Mountaineer at halftime of the Texas Christian game at Milan Puskar Stadium on Nov. 3, 2012, during Mountaineer Week. And, upon receiving the honor, she said:

“People talk about the West Virginia family, and I feel that that’s the epitome of this school, of this city and of this state. I feel at home here, and I feel like I’ve brought a piece of Taitlyn home.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.