A colleague’s serendipitous email inspired Liz Magera to marry a personal goal with the potential to save Canadian lives.
In February, she celebrated her 60th birthday with a goal to run her first 10K. In July, she had just completed that run when a co-worker’s email informed her of the Canadian Liver Foundation’s Lace Up for Liver pilot run Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10k on Dec. 1 in Negril, Jamaica in support of Canadian liver research.
“Maybe this will be your next run,” my colleague said in her email,” Magera recalled. She had done one run. A run in Jamaica would be beyond her wildest dreams. “She didn’t know about Jack (her grandson). I told her my grandson has a liver disease...”
“It just took over my emotions. Could I possibly do this?”
Magera did do it. She signed up for the run. Currently, she is $55 shy of fundraising $10,000 for the Lace Up for Liver run.
Initially, Magera’s email to 136 friends and family requesting support has spread to contacts emailing contacts, friends telling friends on Facebook. Her Kingsway Running Room sent an email on her behalf to its network.
To date, the Lace Up for Liver team of seven runners has raised approximately $30,000, Marsha Doucette, Canadian Liver Foundation spokesperson and Greater Toronto Area regional co-ordinator reported. Doucette is running the 10K with Magera. Doucette’s father, Richard, is walking the 10K after receiving a liver transplant in May 2011 following liver cancer.
Magera’s grandson, Jack, was born with biliary atresia, a relatively rare disease in which the bile duct outside the liver that carries bile from the liver to the small intestine is damaged. It affects one in every 10,000 to 20,000 infants shortly after birth, the Canadian Liver Foundation reports.
“I didn’t believe the doctor. How can a child be born with liver disease?” Magera recalled Friday, in the living room of her central Etobicoke home with husband, Emil, who is walking the 10K in Negril. “We spent literally six weeks in hospital in and out every day before Jack’s surgery. When Jack had the Kasai procedure, doctors had only performed the procedure for five years.”
Jack responded well to the procedure, named after the surgeon who developed it. The operation removes the damaged bile duct outside the liver and replaces it with a new drainage system made from a piece of small intestine. It fully alleviates jaundice, but will not reverse liver damage that has already occurred or prevent any low-grade ongoing damage.
“The doctors did say there is no guarantee,” Emil added. “Somewhere down the road, Jack may possibly need a liver transplant.”
If Jack develops a fever, he is admitted to McMaster Children’s Hospital where his specialist works, Magera said. High fever sparks fear of infection in his liver.
Today, Jack is an energetic five-year-old with a four-year-old brother, Christopher. Two weeks ago, the Make-a-Wish Foundation granted Jack’s wish — to visit LEGOLAND in San Diego, Calif. with his family and his two grandmothers. His specialist submitted Jack’s name to the foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill children and children living with a lifelong illness.
“Jack is a bright kid,” Emil said of his grandson. “He loves building and playing with Lego. Lego is his life right now. He’s so excited (about the trip).”
Doucette said there are plans to expand the Lace Up for Liver runs next year to two, with one repeating in Negril, the other possibly in California, Hawaii or Europe.
“People can sign up who are just learning to run or who are marathoners,” said Doucette, a kinesiology university graduate and former personal trainer. “These are very attractive destinations. We will help you reach your fundraising goals. We’ll support you. You have to put in the hours of running. But we’ll help you get there.”
Many Canadians live without the knowledge they have a liver disease, Doucette said.
“Most people don’t know they have any form of liver disease until it’s too late,” she said. “For the majority of liver disease, if you catch it early on, you can reverse the effects. It’s the only internal organ that can regenerate itself. We need to raise money to fund cures, early diagnoses and vaccines, like (the vaccine we already have) for hepatitis A and B.”
Meanwhile, Magera continues to raise funds. She said she personally thanks every donor by letter or email.
“You’re giving money for research, and hopefully, for cures,” she said. “I tell people, ‘I don’t know you. But I sincerely thank you. You read my story and you wanted to support me. I’m so grateful.’”
The foundation holds support groups on the first Monday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at the North York Civic Centre, 5100 Yonge St., five blocks north of Sheppard Avenue.
To read more about the personal stories of the Lace Up for Liver team visit www.laceupforliver.ca or click “sponsor me” to donate to Magera or the team.
One in 10 Canadians has a liver disease, the Canadian Liver Foundation reports.
Sterotypically, liver disease is linked to alcohol or drugs. Cirrhosis is often the only liver-related condition known to people.
However, there are more than 100 known forms of liver diseases caused by a variety of factors affecting everyone from infants to older adults, the Canadian Liver Foundation reports.
The most frequent liver diseases are viral hepatitis A, B and C, fatty liver disease linked to obesity, alcohol, genetics, autoimmune disorders, drugs and toxins and cancer.
The liver performs more than 500 functions in the body, including fighting off infection, neutralizing toxins, manufacturing proteins and hormones, controlling blood sugar and helping blood to clot. It is the only human organ that can regenerate itself, making it possible for someone to donate a part of their liver.