Monday, September 23, 2013

Incredible resilience on ample display at annual liver walk

Robin Roth, co-chair of the San Francisco hepatitis C task force
The winning team’s name at yesterday’s Bay Area American Liver Foundation fundraiser sort of said it all. Team Life Is Good raised more than $5,000 for the cause, while their moniker pointed to the yin and yang of emotions in the crowd.

Liver disease, ranging from Hepatitis B and C to sclerosis and liver cancer, impacts far more people than AIDS, but it seems to be much less discussed. The infection rate for Hepatitis C has escalated so much in recent years that the federal Centers for Disease Control recently recommended that all baby boomers get tested for evidence of infection.

As people milled around before the walk began it was impossible not to overhear horror stories of living through 48 weeks of the old standard interferon therapy that made patients feel like they had the most aching flu ever for the entire 11 months. A few talked of nearly dying on the long waiting list for a liver transplant before one came through. I even heard discussions of suicide pacts if the disease and therapy became intolerable.

But these conversations were nearly always matter-of-fact in tone, just something you do in order to still be here and be able to declare Life is Good. Mind you most of them were not eager to go through another round of therapy or another transplant, not even with the newer drugs that are just now being approved that promise fewer side effect. The memories of the first go round are too raw.

For those reasons they were anxious to hear about our work trying to get liver regeneration using stem cells. Many happily took our handout with a QR code that led them to videos about the research we fund in the field. You can watch those liver disease videos on our website, and see a list of all liver disease awards we've funded.

We lucked into a glorious day in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The notorious fog had rolled away and the fountains at the music concourse were glistening in the sun. The South San Francisco High School cheerleading squad sent the walkers on their way at the start of the march with this cheer.

“Livers. Livers. Are the best. Keep on walking. Save the rest.”

Don Gibbons

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