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Eric H.

Prescription Drug-Induced Liver Injury

I chose to proudly represent ALF at the Boston Marathon because liver disease impacts and takes away loved ones. I, like far too many others, have lost someone I loved from one of the many diseases that can affect the vital organ that is the liver. The function of the liver, or lack thereof, has touched multiple aspects of my life. First, losing my father in 2001 made me aware of liver disease. Then, in 2015, it was me who was the patient and I saw firsthand its effects on family and daily life. Next, practicing as a Physician Assistant for the past 11 years has shown me how much the community needs help. Lastly, being part of the ALF team in Falmouth made me feel that I belong with a group who strives to work hard for something bigger than themselves. I am committed to contributing to the change that is needed to bring awareness and support.

My father became sick in 2001 while overseas on business. Due to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, his return home was delayed. Upon returning home, his condition worsened and he was hospitalized in New Hampshire, eventually being transferred to the Liver Department at Lahey Hospital in Burlington, MA. I was devastated to witness his condition when visiting him as he was weak, his eyes were yellow, and he would repetitively vomit blood. Right after Thanksgiving that year, the Doctors placed him in a medically-induced coma to reduce the activity of many of his body systems in efforts of giving him the strength to recover. At the time, they believed this was a temporary situation. On December 13th, 2001, my family and I had to make the difficult decision to turn off his life support. One by one we said our goodbyes until I was the final family member in the room. Although he was not conscious, I promised him three things: I promised that I would do well in school, that I would make him proud, and that I would take care of myself to not end up with the same fate.

Fourteen years later in 2015, I found myself struggling through my own liver crisis. My Doctor had started me on a new prescription medicine that unfortunately impaired my liver within the first week of taking it. I was hospitalized and diagnosed with a drug-induced liver injury. With my liver not functioning, my levels of bilirubin elevated rapidly. My eyes became yellow, my joints ached, I got a full body rash, I felt sick all the time, and I was so weak I needed help up and down stairs. Symptoms got severe enough to limit my sleep to 3-5 hours per night for weeks. My loving wife did all that she could to provide me with clean nutrients and full-time support. She bought me products and supplements to help with the itching as my body tried to get rid of the bile salts through my skin that my liver could not process. My wife was left to tirelessly and single-handedly take care of our 1 year-old son. She did above and beyond what I could ask for as a partner but despite all of her efforts and love, my liver function continued to worsen.

After six long weeks of being cared for by hospital emergency rooms, my Primary Care Doctor, and a Gastroenterologist, I was referred to a specialist. My wife pushed for the soonest appointment available, which happened to be on her birthday. As we walked hand-in-hand into the Liver Department of Lahey I told her about the last time I had been there 14 years earlier. I hadn’t previously told her of where my Father had died. The Doctors ran additional tests that day requiring 11 tubes of blood and provided medicines they were hopeful would help. Having to continue to go every few days for blood draws, I ended up having my blood drawn 23 times. Each time we were hopeful of improvement; sometimes the results stayed the same and sometimes they showed worsening. It was very hard on all of us to wait and be met with uncertainty and disappointment. I remember always remaining positive for my wife, but inside I was faced with questions of what if I didn’t improve. I wondered whether it was time to write things down for my infant son that I always wanted to be the one to teach him. I didn’t want my son to grow-up without his Father.

As time went on, the drug metabolized out of my system, and little by little my liver began to rebound. With the liver being such an amazing organ, I have now made a full recovery. With a new perspective on things, I follow a clean diet and do not drink alcohol. I have been able to exercise again for the past year. Certain movies, smells, or when the leaves start to change during fall still bring back feelings of what it was like when my liver was impaired. I have made it a priority not to take my health for granted and I convey that message to others on a daily basis though my profession.

Being a Physician Assistant, I’m lucky enough to be able to promote liver health to my patients every day. Each encounter gives me the opportunity to improve the life and wellbeing of the community, one patient at a time. I do many physical exams where the patient and I discuss their vaccination history as well as social habits like alcohol, smoking, diet, and exercise. I take the time to explain how medications work and how they can be harmful. Over the years, I have treated hundreds of other patients who have had blood borne pathogen exposures through needle sticks on their job. I inquire about their hepatitis B immunization history and initiate the vaccine series or draw a titer as appropriate. I educate them on transmission rates of diseases such as hepatitis C. Unfortunately, I have had to tell someone they have been diagnosed with hepatitis C and what they can expect going forward. A few months ago, I witnessed the phenomenon effecting baby boomers when I found out two people I know personally had recently tested positive for hepatitis C. Their previously almost care-free world was flipped upside down from one day to the next. At that time, I heavily researched the current data and treatment options to give them all the information I could to help them understand the disease and reduce their fears. All these things combined and many more aspects of my profession allow me to hopefully make a difference in peoples’ lives and the lives of their loved ones. Through running for ALF, I hope to be able to impact so many more.

Last month, I ran the 45th annual Falmouth Road Race proudly wearing the orange jersey of the American Liver Foundation. Leading up to the race, fundraising allowed me to spread the messages of liver health and bring up conversations that people don’t usually have. On race day, I was able to meet the altruistic team members who share in the same passion that I do because they, too, have been touched by liver disease. It was heartwarming to learn some of their stories and also to receive the outpouring of support from the Falmouth community. The entire experience was exceptionally gratifying.

I have always been amazed at the vast array of achievements human beings are capable of accomplishing. When pushed to their potential, humans can be almost limitless. Ambitious individuals set their aspirations further than what is considered attainable, but just short of what is considered impossible. With passion, dedication, and commitment a person can run a marathon. While utilizing the same traits, a human, alone or with a team, can make a monumental difference in the population by promoting health, wellness, and awareness. I can run 26.2 miles and I can make a positive impact in liver health.

Help support Eric’s fundraising efforts for his run in the Boston Marathon by visiting his personal page here.

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