Breaking News
More () »

Jacksonville veteran in need of liver transplant waits for VA response; mother fears the worst

It would be her daughter's most difficult journey, a battle with chronic liver disease.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Army Veteran Sunnie Smith did two tours in the Persian Gulf. Her mother said the veteran was stationed in Afghanistan when she fell from the watchtower. 

A fall that would change her life forever.

"They transported her to Germany," Sunnie Smith's mother, Betty Smith said. "She was there for six months and then she was sent to Walter Reed. She was there 12 months and that's when they made the diagnosis."

It would be her daughter's most difficult journey, a battle with chronic liver disease.

"She's now been diagnosed with end-stage liver disease," Betty Smith said.

It is called Primary Biliary Cholangitis.

For the past decade, the Department of Veteran Affair's healthcare system has treated Smith for the disease. Now the only alternative is a liver transplant. 

But Betty Smith, who is also her daughter's caregiver, said the process to become a transplant candidate has been slow.  

"I am not confident the system is working," she said.

Last week Sunnie Smith was rushed to the emergency room and has remained at the ICU at Orange Park Hospital. 

Her mother called the VA numerous times to notify her patient advocate and physician. When she couldn't reach anyone, the family contacted On Your Side.

"It helped her GI physician ended up calling me," Betty Smith said.

Now the VA wants to transfer her to its Gainesville medical facility but she can't move given her current status.

"My fear is that she's not going to make it," her mother said, "that she is not going to make it and I hate to say and I try not to show that, but that is how I truly feel."

Senator Marco Rubio's office told us they will look into the case. Betty Smith said she is sharing her story to hopefully get the VA's attention and maybe they will elevate her daughter's status.

"The VA should be more attentive to their veterans," she said.

On Your Side also instructed the family to contact the White House VA Hotline, which they did. Now, they must wait.

Veterans having issues with the VA should contact the White House VA hotline which is operated 24 hours a day. Their phone number is 1-855-948-2311.