High school student gets liver transplant, scores touchdown just days after being cleared to play

For many at Buford High School, one big play during this weekend's football game was a miracle.
Published: Nov. 6, 2023 at 11:04 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 7, 2023 at 3:32 PM EST
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BUFORD, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Buford High School senior Nathaniel Olofintuyi, also known as “Tuyi,” just spent months recovering from a liver transplant. However, on Friday night at his senior night football game, he caught a touchdown after being cleared to play again just days before.

His mom, coaches, and teammates call his play and life a miracle. His mother, Sophia Jackson, said she could only think one thing when she saw the play.

“God is good because [it’s] a miracle. A total miracle,” Jackson said. “I just started crying. I was overwhelmed with joy that he had the opportunity to do something that he always wanted to do. He did not want to spend his senior year in a hospital bed,” she said.

In a video, you can see Buford quarterback Dayton Raiola throw the ball to Olofintuyi. The touchdown helped Buford beat Central Gwinnett 62-0.

“I’m glad my first varsity touchdown actually met something to the person that actually caught it. You know, he conquered life. And my first touchdown went to him, I’m going to remember that forever,” Raiola said.

However, the story behind the catch and celebration is a result of Olofintuyi’s journey leading up to that moment.

“I mean, considering like six months ago I couldn’t even walk, let alone brush my teeth by myself or go to the bathroom by myself and it’s just a miracle to see the long journey, the six-month journey I came. It doesn’t seem real,” Olofintuyi said.

On March 14, the 17-year-old went to eat with his two friends on his birthday. He woke up the next morning sick to his stomach and vomiting. He went to the ER on March 24 and was sent to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with acute liver failure.

“When the surgeon, the hepatologist--CHOA has an amazing liver transplant team and they looked me in my eyes, and said “he is dying and if he doesn’t have a liver transplant, he may not live,” Jackson said. “So, those words played in my head and I told my son, and I said look, you will live and not die,” she said.

She said he was dying before their eyes. Jackson said his autopsy of the liver was a 90 to 95% necrotic issue (cell dead or liver died).

Tuyi was placed on a transplant list by March 30. The next day, the unthinkable happened.

“The next morning, he had a match. He had a liver transplant match. That’s a miracle, and the physicians, they said they’ve never had a match so quickly, ever,” Jackson said.

Olofintuyi‘s mother said he went into surgery on March 31 for 12 hours. On April 1, the surgery was completed. Olofintuyi started rehab around July. Last Monday, he was cleared to finally play again, proving that no matter what life throws your way, you can always win if you believe.

“I give all glory to God. Long journey. Like I couldn’t have done it without him,” Olofintuyi said. “I remember, right before my surgery, before I knew I was getting a liver it was hard. Two weeks of my body just turning against me, and I remember going down to get some sunlight, my brother wheeled me down to the garden and told me, ‘God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers and that just stuck with me every day, that I went to PT,’” he said.

Now, the 6-feet-6-inches tall teen encourages everyone to keep fighting.

“I would tell them like just believe! Like I know, at times it’s tough. Like in the moment it’s tough like I’m telling you, it’s going to be tough. It’s not easy but I’m telling you there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Olofintuyi said. “I hope my story can be an inspiration to all who went through what I went through a devastating surgery or anything like that, and I just pray that my miracle can shine light to the world and bring light to the world,” he said.

Jackson said they have not been able to meet the liver donor, but said they hope to do so soon. She said her son is under continuous medical treatment and will be under doctor’s care for a year. She said he will be on anti-rejection medicine for life.