Tale of a Tenured Volunteer

Tale of a Tenured Volunteer

Marla Marshall is a Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) volunteer extraordinaire who celebrated her 20th transplant-anniversary on August 16, 2018. Marla’s “jack of all trades” volunteer tenure with the CLF demonstrates how anyone with the determination, passion and drive to help others can play a tremendous role in promoting liver health and reducing the impact of liver disease.

Marla understands the importance of raising funds for liver research. When she was born nearly 40 years ago, liver testing and diagnoses were not yet up to today’s standard. She lived out her infant years constantly scratching her jaundiced skin and leaving her parents at a loss for what could be going on with their newborn.

“My mom would fashion these homemade pyjamas with mittens to stop me from scratching in the middle of the night,” says Marla.

A baby holds an adults index finger while it sleeps.
 Contrary to popular belief, babies can be born with liver disease and experience the same terrible symptoms as well.

Undergoing multiple tests over the next few years, Marla’s family would finally be given a name for her condition; neonatal hepatitis.

“My parents were actually told to start preparing for the worst,” she recalls.

But, baby Marla carried on fighting and adapting to the only life she ever knew. She grew into a young girl who learned to manage her condition by keeping on top of her meds and accommodating her life around her symptoms.

Of course, as a child living with liver disease, adversity followed Marla wherever she went.

“Some of the medication I took throughout my childhood years made my teeth discoloured,” says Marla. “You can imagine this resulted in a lot of teasing as a child”.

After a couple of viral infections as a teenager sent Marla’s liver in a downward spiral, her next step became clear; she would need a liver transplant if she was going to survive.

a surgeon looks attentively on the patient they are conducting surgery on. The surgeon is wearing full scrubs and rubber gloves.
Liver transplant procedures can take up to 12 hours, depending on your condition and overall health.

“The fact that Dr. Mark Swain saw my condition worsening and knew to act upon it immediately saved my life,” says Marla. “The level of expertise shown by Dr. Kelly Burak and my whole team of doctors over the years astounds me.  I’m so very thankful for them and our amazing health care system.”

Marla received her gift of life at just 17 years old. She began to gain some normalcy in her life that she never quite had. Her newfound view on life left her with the urge to give back.

Through a few chance encounters, Marla’s path led to the Canadian Liver Foundation. Over the last two decades, Marla and her family have been involved in practically every National and Alberta-based event possible.

“My whole family loves getting involved with the CLF,” says Marla. “We put a team together for the Stroll for Liver with my three daughters, and I volunteered to speak about my story at the Calgary LIVERight Gala in 2014 as well.”

Marla and her three young daughters, elementary school age, stand in a field surrounded by trees and wild grass.
Marla and her three daughters (Photo courtesy of Two Little Bells).

Marla’s volunteer work behind the scenes has helped turn events like the annual Spring for Daisies’ sale into successful fundraisers for liver research.

With all the hours she has contributed over the last 20 years, Marla still fears she is not doing enough.

“I sometimes feel this huge struggle that I don’t do enough—that I’m not living some epic life where I bike around the country to raise funds,” says Marla.

Certainly, not every volunteer can be expected to achieve such memorable feats as ones we often hear about in the media. However, it is those who graciously volunteer their time, skill and passion to an organization that can make a lasting impact—Marla has proven to do just that.

Marla and Debralee pose in front of flowers for sale.
(L to R) Debralee Fernets, Regional Manager of Alberta and Marla Marshall, volunteer extraordinaire, at the Spring for Daisies fundraising event.

Outside of volunteering, Marla finds herself speaking to anyone about the stigma that liver disease carries, and the benefit of signing their organ donor card.

“It’s likely that sometime in my day to day life I’m having conversations like ‘well actually, cirrhosis is not always caused by alcohol’ or ‘if just one person signed their donor card and talked to their families about it, it would be worth more than a million dollars to someone in need,” says Marla. “I’m so thankful my own donor decided to contribute this gift of life, my only wish is that I could thank them for it in person.”

Debralee, Donna and Marla pose with a horse mascot at the Calgary marathon
(L to R) Debralee, Donna and Marla after a successful run in support of the CLF at the Calgary Marathon

Marla’s favourite part about volunteering is how it breaks down social barriers we may not recognize exist.

“Through the CLF, I’ve made friends with people 20 to 30 years older than me—some of which I would probably have never crossed paths with in my life,” says Marla. “But somehow, we’re all together working together towards this amazing cause”.

If you are interested in volunteering your time, skills or efforts of any kind to the Canadian Liver Foundation, please visit our volunteer page!

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