I started losing weight rapidly in the fall of 2014 – my junior year of college. Along with that, I was incredibly fatigued. I was falling asleep everywhere, in class, at work, or even while hanging out with my friends. I chalked all of those symptoms up to the usual stresses of college; I was taking 18 credits, working a part-time job, and was involved with several campus clubs. Not only that, but I was trying to keep up with the physical demands of being on a D1 cheerleading squad. My joints were constantly in pain, so I figured that it was just the arthritis that ran in my family.
Once I returned home for winter break, I made an appointment with my doctor. She ordered a slew of labs, and I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I got an appointment with my mom and grandma’s rheumatologist less than a week later, who confirmed my diagnosis. Before I was prescribed any medication though, he noticed that my liver enzymes were through the roof – my numbers were somewhere around 1,400. I got an appointment with a GI doctor that afternoon, and over the course of several appointments, I was told that I probably just had mono. I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t mono, so I got a second opinion at the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases.
While this was all playing out, I was still taking classes at the University of Pittsburgh. My rheumatologist wanted me to take the semester off, but I insisted that I wanted to continue taking classes. I even switched my major during this time, as if I didn’t have enough on my plate already. My new doctor at UPMC scheduled me for a liver biopsy the week after my first appointment, and soon enough, I was officially diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis.
It has been a long road thus far, but I have a fantastic team of doctors looking out for me. After being on 40 mg of prednisone for 13 months, I am now only on 4 mg of tacrolimus and 100 mg of azathioprine, which do a nice job of keeping my numbers in check. They are finally within the normal range, for the most part. I am so thankful for my doctors, and for the support of my friends and family.
Being diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis has certainly been life-changing, and my loved ones have been nothing but empathetic and supportive. I know I have some special people in my life when there are more mocktails in my college apartment than bottles of wine!
Living with AIH means that I have a new normal. I will have days that are harder than others, but I can still accomplish so much! Learning to accept that has made coping much easier.
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