Local resident Ronni Dixie went from not expecting to see another year of life to now having enough strength to participate in the Red Deer Stroll for Liver charity walk on June 3rd.
The struggle dates back to 2002 when Dixie started getting ill.
“My function tests were elevated drastically and they didn’t know why. It took so long for me to get diagnosed,” she said, adding that it took around 12 years before she actually got a diagnosis.
She had spent decades living with a disease called primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), where the body’s immune system attacks the liver’s bile ducts causing scarring.
Although she had originally tried some treatments, there was already a lot of damage and so she got onto the transplant list.
“I got really sick and I spent much of April 2016 in the hospital and I ended up getting paracentesis because I was gaining fluid on my abdomen. It made me look nine months pregnant.”
After going in and out of the hospital almost 40 times, and testing various people, the day finally came in January of 2017 when Dixie received a liver transplant from her nephew Anthony, the 12th person to be tested. He was the perfect match, giving her his right lobe.
“What’s really phenomenal now is how healthy I look. I was looking at maybe another two weeks of life when I got my transplant and it was in the nick of time really,” said Dixie.
She added that she was given a gift of another 20 years provided that her liver doesn’t fail.
Although Dixie still has the disease, she’s working on a newer and stronger liver now.
“I’m at least 15 years in advancement where I can be treated and I am being treated.”
Dixie tried to stay teaching in her classroom at Hunting Hills High School, but didn’t quite have the strength. She said she’s immuno-suppressed and takes anti-rejection drugs.
“The classroom is a special place for germs,” she said with a laugh.
She did, however, get to attend her grandson’s Grade 9 graduation in 2017.
“When I think about the things that you can do when you can play with your grandchildren because someone donated tissue or something like that, that gift is priceless.”
Dixie and her family will be taking part in the upcoming Stroll for Liver charity walk June 3rd among various others. The walk raises funds for liver research and education.
“They’re happening throughout the country in support of more than eight million Canadians affected by liver disease, that’s approximately one in four Canadians,” said Tyler Wiebe, development coordinator for the Alberta region of the Canadian Liver Foundation.
Wiebe, who is also a successful recipient of a liver transplant, said one may not even know they have liver disease.
“The liver is pretty resilient so many times you won’t know that you have a liver disease until it’s progressed quite a bit. They say that two thirds of your liver can be damaged before you even experience any symptoms,” he said.
Some of the typical symptoms of liver disease include jaundice, fatigue, pain on your upper right quadrant of your abdomen and more.
A common belief, he said, is that liver disease is only caused by alcohol, which is of course not the case.
“It’s mainly due to the rise of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, so that’s one of the fastest growing diseases. The main problem is that as a society we’ve tended to become a little more sedentary and our diets have become very poor,” said Wiebe.
The Stroll for Liver charity walk, held at Bower Ponds beginning at 10 a.m. June 3rd, is to raise funds for lifesaving liver research and education. Those interested in learning more or registering for the walk can visit www.strollforliver.ca.