New Milford: Mother of three appeals for help to find liver donor

Cynthia (Cyndi Renna) Define

Cynthia (Cyndi Renna) Define


NEW MilFORD — The critical news came over the summer. Cynthia (Cyndi Renna) Define has end-stage liver disease and must actively pursue a living liver donor.

Now time is running out for the 51-year-old single mother of three from New Milford. Her hope for survival is in finding a match.

Define grew up in New Fairfield and was diagnosed at age 13 with primary biliary cirrhosis. It is a chronic disease in which the bile ducts in your liver are slowly destroyed. Because she was adopted months after birth, there is no health history to try to understand why she has this disease. At age 42, doctors told Define she had stage 4 liver cirrhosis.

“Unbeknownst to me at that time, I then was told what was chronic has now become permanently damaging. Over time this will cause my liver to fail,” said Define.

Define was adopted a few months after birth and grew up in New Fairfield with her brother, and “two amazing people who gave her life.” Her late parents were her biggest supporters, Define said. They were the people she trusted the most, “giving, caring, huge-hearted,” and the people she could always lean on.

Sadly, three years ago her mother died suddenly and her father died of a broken heart, Define said. But because of these special people she grew up and still sees the “glass half full,” she said.

Define has volunteered at a hospital as a candy striper, been a babysitter, worked service jobs, then became a hairdresser because she liked to make people feel good about themselves. She wanted to become a mother from a young age and it was after her third child was born when she found out she had stage 4 liver cirrhosis.

But the last 10 years have been difficult and Define’s health has progressively deteriorated, making everyday tasks difficult and tiring. Her treatment is at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

The dire news dealt an astringent blow to the vibrant woman who relishes her family life and the career she loves and had to give up as a hairstylist due to her declining condition. Friends and family watch helplessly to see her free spirit youthful exuberance decline more each day.

“The liver she was born with is failing her and she is not done living,” said her cousin Joleen Dennison. “Cyndi has been blessed with three beautiful children and it has always been her passion to actively participate in their activities, whether it be attending a football game, volleyball game, or batting practice.”

She described her cousin as the kind of person who derives pleasure from the enjoyment of others.

“Her greatest love of planning celebrations for birthdays or summer picnics has become strenuous because her disease leaves her tired and drained. She wants to be present in her children’s lives, but her body is not cooperating,” added Dennison.

“Most of all I miss being active and being able to keep up with my kids and family life,” said Define who is not the kind of person who likes calling attention to herself.

She is grateful for family and friends’ support and has called on them and now the public to help her find a match so she can have her transplant surgery and survive.

According to the American Liver Foundation, liver failure symptoms can vary widely from one person to another. Symptoms may begin slowly and gradually get worse, or they may occur suddenly and be severe from the start.

For Define, there is overwhelming fatigue that makes her feel drained all the time even after a good night’s sleep. “I had only been able to work about four hours, a few days a week. Since COVID-19, I’ve had to stay at home. Most of all, I miss being active and being able to keep up with my kids and family life. I’ve been on a liver transplant list for the past four years. Now my doctors are telling me my best chance of receiving a liver transplant is to pursue a living liver donor,” she said.

A living donor, she explained, is when someone gives part of his or her liver to be implanted in a recipient. “The liver is the only organ to regenerate itself. That’s amazing. After a living liver donor transplant, both the living donor and the recipient’s liver grow back to full size.”

Define described her current health as mired in an unrelenting state of fatigue she barely has the energy to get out of bed. She has water retention in her abdomen and legs consistent in end-stage liver cirrhosis.

“It is very debilitating. It’s mentally depressing because your mind wants to do all the things you need to do, but your energy level is low. You just mentally can’t get motivated, then your body which is physical is extremely depleted,”

She wakes up hopeful that sleep would make her feel better but instead the rest provides no recovery time. “You’re operating still at the same lower level than normal.”

Liver disease is chronic and persistent. “It takes you down even lower and you try to function at the new normal, then that gets lower,” Define continued.

Any energy she musters focus on family obligations. “I don’t go out or do anything, just important things, like getting kids up for school, taking care of the dogs, and dinner.”

Define uses what’s left in her effort to find her own living donor. She said her doctors told her it’s her only hope for survival. “Finding a deceased donor takes too long,” she said.

“I have always seen my glass as half full, I don’t take anything for granted. I love, give and appreciate anyone who is there for me, I don’t ever ask for anything. Now it’s my turn for those to help me and share part of an organ, for me, just for me, take a risk, give part of their life to and for me. It’s overwhelming and incredibly hard for me.”

If you want to be a living donor, call Yale-New Haven Living Donor Transplant Center at 1-866-925-3897 and mention Cynthia Define. The center will explain the donation process, the time it takes, any expenses, and any and all questions you or anyone you know has. Everyone remains anonymous.