Samantha Warshick’s father went into the hospital on a Monday and passed away on Saturday morning. Now she’s working hard to prevent that from happening to someone else.
“It was a really quick loss. He got sick very quickly with liver failure,” says Warshick, a marketing professional who lives in Clayton Park. “He was diagnosed with liver disease at 62 and it was too late to be able to seek treatment. It was such a shock to our family.”
She wanted to do something positive in memory of her father, so she organized several spin-a-thons and raised more than $6,500 for the Canadian Liver Foundation.
She also volunteered to help organize Halifax’s first LIVERight Gala, which takes place Friday, Nov. 30, at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel. Tickets are $100 or a table of 10 for $1,000 and include hors d’oeuvres, a three-course dinner, a live auction with Layne the Auctionista and an exclusive performance by jazz singer Tia Brazda.
“It’s all about raising awareness because it’s important for all of Atlantic Canada to know more about liver disease,” says Warshick. “We want people to understand the importance of early screenings and what to watch out for.”
She says liver disease symptoms are similar to those of the flu, like weight loss, nausea, fatigue and loss of appetite. Since people are often plagued by these issues as they get older, she says it can be difficult to know you have liver disease until the later stages.
There are also damaging misconceptions about how a person develops liver disease.
“People assume you have to have an alcohol problem, but only one out of 100 types of liver disease is caused by alcohol,” says Warshick. “Canada’s obesity problem means many people are developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease due to an unhealthy diet.”
Dr. Kevork Peltekian heads up the Division of Digestive Care and Endoscopy with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and specializes in liver disease and transplantation at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.
He says more than one in four Atlantic Canadians may be affected by liver disease, which translates to more than 650,000 people, and that fatty liver disease is estimated to affect 20 to 40 per cent of Canadians.
“Samantha knows the silent nature of liver disease,” says Dr. Peltekian, who will be speaking at the LIVERight Gala. “She understands the stigma attached to liver disease and she wants to make a difference.”
He says liver disease can progress to cirrhosis without any signs or symptoms, so the best tactic is to focus on prevention by identifying and managing each individual’s risks.
Fatty liver disease progression can be halted by losing weight (if the person’s BMI is 30 or more), managing their blood sugar if they’re overweight and have diabetes, minimizing medications and supplements known to cause fatty liver, as well as limited alcohol intake (10 drinks per week for women and 15 drinks per week for men).
Liver transplants only happen in six Canadian cities and Halifax is one of them. Warshick is hopeful that Halifax’s first LIVERight event will boost awareness of liver disease and raise much-needed funds for Canadian research.
“I know that nothing I do will bring my dad back, but if we can raise enough money to find a cure for even one type of liver disease — save even one family from the grief we’ve had to go through — then it will be worth it.”