Ella Watson was born on July 27, 1983 at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, MD. She was diagnosed at birth with Biliary Atresia (see “Fix the Disease”), a congenital dysfunction of the bile ducts. At six weeks old, Ella underwent the risky Kasai Procedure, performed by Dr. Victor Garcia. This surgery was meant to maintain Ella’s health until a liver transplant could be procured; however, Ella lived to 24 years without any complications.
Ella grew up in Fairfax, VA with her mother, Susan Watson, her father, Commander Bruce Watson Sr., and siblings, Bruce, Susan and Jen.
On November 14, 1991, Ella’s mother, Susan Watson, passed away due to rare complications from an endoscopy. The death was a surprise to the family. Soon thereafter, her father fell sick due to a disease called Sarcoidisis that he had contracted while in the military. After a month of hospitalization, Bruce Watson Sr. died on May 6, 1993.
After college Ella was hired as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Art and Art History Department at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. She assisted teaching classes in Drawing, Sculpture, and 3D Design at the college and also taught art to children ages 5-15 at a local private art studio.
In early December 2007, Ella awoke to discover that she was jaundiced. She rushed to the hospital and within a few days had the first of her percutaneous bile drains installed. She spent the next seven months being treated at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA. (See “Fix the Disease”) .
The family relocated to Blacksburg, Virginia where the older Watson siblings attended school. Susan transferred to Virginia Tech, Jen attended Radford University, and Bruce, who had already been enrolled at Virginia Tech, became Ella’s permanent guardian.
Ella’s siblings attempted to provide her with a normal upbringing. For the most part, they were successful. Ella made great friends in Blacksburg, including a group of seven girls who she also considers to be family. She went to sleepovers, had boyfriends, went to football games; she was the President of her class all four years of high school, Editor-in-chief of the school newspaper; and an active member in numerous clubs, including Theater Arts.
After graduating from high school, Ella attended Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA to study art.
Though her initial introduction to the program was challenging, Ella found that she really loved being an artist. In 2006, Ella graduated Summa Cum Laude with two degrees—one in Sculpture and Extended Media, the second in Painting and Printmaking. During her time at VCU, she earned 11 awards, including two scholarships for studying abroad in Peru and Italy.
In addition, she acquired experience in many different fields of art including lithography, oil painting, drawing, casting, welding, performance, and critical theory.
After numerous attempts to fix her liver at Geisinger, Ella moved to New York City to be closer to her family and to be treated at the prestigious New York Presbyterian Hospital. In August 2008, it became clear that Ella needed a liver transplant. Since then, she has been living with her brother, sister-in law Virginia, and niece Georgia in the Bronx, and she also often stays in Brooklyn with her sister Jen.
She is undergoing treatment which frequently has her in the doctor’s office or in the Emergency Room.
She is on numerous drugs for pain management, and is living with two bile bags and tubes protruding from her chest. When she can, she picks up odd jobs and hangs out with friends, while always searching for new ways to express her situation through her art despite her limited space and energy. After all of her treatment and needles and drugs and procedures, Ella has learned that her art is what pulls her through – where she can always be free to express exactly how she feels and how she needs to cope.
Her family is helping take care of her, pulling through for her like they have time and time again. She is currently awaiting a transplant with a MELD score of 25 and hopes to have one either from a cadaver or a live donor within six months
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