Refusing To Let Liver Disease Define Her

Refusing To Let Liver Disease Define Her

After returning from a tropical holiday three years ago, Heather was feeling exhausted. She admits that her health was not in the best place at the time. Her recent diagnosis with arthritis and her upcoming 40th birthday were worrying her since they both seemed to be accompanied by troubling fatigue.

“I thought that this was just what turning 40 felt like,” says Heather. “I never would’ve guessed it was as severe as it turned out to be.”

Heather stands with her arm around her mother smiling for the camera. In the background, a park with a chain link fence can be seen, as well as a green field and a tree providing the two women with shade. Heather is noticeably overweight in this photo, a common risk factor of NASH.
Heather, a few weeks prior to her diagnosis of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

A short time later, Heather suffered a debilitating gallbladder attack that landed her in the hospital. Doctors began conducting numerous tests, attempting to understand why Heather was constantly left feeling drained of her energy. They first found that her blood was extremely thin; gathering the kind of sample that may be found in a patient taking blood thinning medication.

Next, Heather would undergo more testing, including a liver biopsy that would confirm the worst. Heather had been living undiagnosed with stage 3 non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an advanced liver disease when too much fat stored in the liver causes inflammation and can lead to irreversible scarring (cirrhosis), liver cancer and even liver failure.

“When they first told me I had NASH I had never even heard of the term,” says Heather. “Afterwards, I felt like it began to define me.”

Heather takes a selfie style photo lying in a hospital bed. She is wearing a blue gown and is tucked under a patterned pink blanket. She is noticeably jaundiced, with her skin a pale yellow colour.
A jaundiced Heather awaits more testing in hospital.

Like many patients of liver disease, Heather’s condition led to other severe complications like varices (enlarged veins in the esophagus) and Barret’s syndrome (chronic inflammation of the esophagus).

Through ups and downs, Heather’s condition began to decline rapidly. In April of 2018, doctors decided that Heather needed to be on a transplant list or she would succumb to the complications caused by NASH.

She eventually spent time in the ICU and was clinging to life.

“Doctors told my husband to prepare for the worst and that I was 24-48 hours away from dying,” says Heather.

Heather lies in a bed connected to all sorts of tubes and medical apparatuses one would imagine are keeping her alive. She has an oxygen tube and an IV that is visible. A yellow wash cloth lies over her forehead.
Like many patients of NASH and cirrhosis, Heather’s liver progressively failed until it could no longer function.

That all changed when on May 21st, Heather received a lifesaving liver transplant operation. Within months, Heather’s liver remarkably recovered and allowed her to receive a second chance at life.

“The difference I feel is like day and night,” says Heather. “I have more energy, and I’ve quickly learned to enjoy being more active and eating a healthier diet. I didn’t think that was possible.”

Today, Heather makes a passionate effort to practice a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and frequent exercise. Her goal is to encourage her two young daughters to practice a healthy diet and physical activity too so that they may not experience the hardship that she has had to.

Now much healthier and at a safer weight, heather stands in a deep red dress, beside her husband in a white shirt and bowtie, ready to attend an event. In the background of their home, a christmas tree is brightly lit beside them. In essence, this photo proves that Heather did not let her liver disease define her.
Heather and her husband today.

“I want to show my kids that your life can be different,” says Heather. “I have definitely started to lead by example, but giving them that education and starting those good habits while they’re young is so important to me.”

Visit our NASH webpage to understand how you can prevent this disease. For assistance on how you can ensure liver disease does not define you, contact our free and National support services.

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