Channelling A Family Experience To Help Others
Liver health has unearthed a new source of meaning in the life of 22-year-old Andrea.
A biomedical graduate from the University of Ottawa, her goal is to become a successful Canadian hepatologist and researcher. All of this positive inspiration was, unfortunately, sprung from a heart-breaking family experience.
Andrea’s grandfather, who was like a second father to her, lived for many years with liver cancer. Having been living undiagnosed with hepatitis B since his days in China, her grandfather’s late diagnosis was followed by a roller coaster of ups and downs affecting his health and wellbeing.
Andrea was thrusted into the world of liver disease when she played the part of caregiver and translator for her non-English speaking grandfather at all of his medical appointments. During this time, she began to gain a powerful perspective about liver disease’s devastating impact on patients and families.
“The part that moved me the most is that had we known my grandfather had hepatitis B before it progressed to cirrhosis—we could’ve helped stop it,” says Andrea. “I guess you can say the idea that we can better prevent and diagnose people started me on my path.”
In her second year of University, Andrea entered the Scinapse Undergraduate Science Case Competition at UOttawa where students were tasked with writing a research proposal on how they might tackle global health issues. Borrowing from her now extensive exposure to the effects of liver disease and her passion for saving lives, Andrea chose to investigate how certain medications can cause liver damage.
Andrea’s appetite for knowledge and fascination with liver research led her to discover new studies on a wild mushroom called the Ganoderma mushroom, which has shown promise in reducing inflammation in the liver. Motivated by her family’s impact with liver disease, Andrea submitted a proposal in which she suggested harnessing the power of Ganoderma mushrooms to stop or slow the damage that would lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. For her work, she was awarded the silver medal in the competition.
Unfortunately, shortly before her graduation, Andrea’s grandfather passed away due to complications of liver cancer.
“It’s the feeling that all this work I put into a project could actually make a meaningful difference in someone’s life that matters much more than any mark I could have received,” says Andrea.
After taking her time to grieve and reflect, Andrea began searching for her next endeavour to help anyone in her community affected by liver disease. As fate would have it, a volunteer opportunity with the Canadian Liver Foundation soon found her.
Joining the Ottawa team at our LIVERight Gala, Andrea quickly got acquainted with the CLF, and the support programs we provide those living with liver disease. She knew early on that she wanted to use her skill set to go into the community and understand how she can make a significant impact.
Regional Coordinator of Eastern Ontario, Meghann Darroch, soon approached Andrea with the unique opportunity of sharing her story to educate the public about liver health through the Regional Hepatitis Program.
In collaboration with the Ottawa Hospital, Andrea uses her bilingual skills and passion for liver health in the Regional Hepatitis Program to reach Ottawa’s Mandarin-speaking community. Andrea’s role is to conduct community presentations to inform on preventative hepatitis measures and help community members navigate the complicated health system.
“This was a huge challenge for me as I was terrified at public speaking,” says Andrea. “But after doing it just one time, I could immediately see the connection I made. I completely fell in love with it.”
Andrea strongly believes that both educating the general public and promoting patient advocacy are some of the most effective ways to prevent liver disease and encourage a healthy lifestyle.
“The resources that the CLF provides for the public such as access to reliable liver health information and peer support groups are invaluable for those affected by liver disease,” says Andrea. “Additionally, the CLF allows people like me, who have experienced the effects of liver disease, to connect and provide support for others close to home.”
The determination and certainty of spending her life helping others in as many ways as she can is something that sets Andrea apart from so many others. No matter the task and no matter the difficulty, Andrea’s motivation continues to be steered by one central theme.
“Whenever I can help someone in need, it makes me feel that my grandfather is still with me.”