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Phoenix Forward

Dean of Nursing, a transplant survivor, rallies for liver-disease awareness

Liver on X-ray.

Pam Fuller, dean of the University of Phoenix College of Nursing, knows she beat the odds. After struggling with life-threatening liver disease, she underwent a liver transplant. With her new lease on life, she's supporting the causes of liver health and organ donation — and will join the American Liver Foundation's upcoming Liver Life Walk.

In 2002, Fuller went in for a routine wellness check only to hear some unexpected news: She had primary biliary cirrhosis, a slowly progressing liver disease that often affects middle-aged women.

"I started getting yellow skin and eyes — known as jaundice — as well as itchy skin and fatigue," Fuller recalls. Her doctors tried medication, but her condition deteriorated. In 2007, her liver enzymes reached a critical point, and a transplant was her only chance of survival.

Fuller added her name to a transplant list in Arizona, but no donors surfaced. By 2008, Fuller's doctors recommended that she move to Indianapolis, where her chances of finding a liver-transplant match might be greater.

Less than a month after her arrival, Fuller received a call that the hospital had found a match, following the death of a donor.

When I see myself in the mirror, I'm reminded that someone's liver is inside me and I was given a second chance at life through someone who committed to be a donor.

Recovery was difficult, but the former nurse took it in stride, with the help of daughter-in-law Joy Fuller. "She was a trooper," Joy Fuller says. "You realize the heaviness of what was given to you, and you don't want to take it lightly."

After returning home to Phoenix, Fuller became a board member of the American Liver Foundation and worked to promote liver health through education. She's especially looking forward to stepping out for the foundation's Liver Life Walk in Phoenix, on April 14. The annual fundraising event is held nationwide on various dates.

"My goal is to raise $2,700," Fuller says. "But my bigger goal is to make people aware of liver health and what they can do to ... at least reduce the likelihood of liver disease."

As her experience shows, the number of patients urgently needing liver transplants far outstrips the available donations. According to the ALF, more than 16,000 Americans currently await liver transplants, but only about 5,000 liver transplants are performed in the United States each year.

The ALF reports there are almost 100 types of liver disease. Some form of it affects about 30 million Americans, adults and children alike. Most people associate liver disease with heavy alcohol drinking, but the disease is associated with many different conditions, such as chronic hepatitis and liver cancer.

"Liver disease has no boundaries," Fuller says. She encourages people to become organ donors by registering on their driver's license. She also advocates annual blood tests to check the liver. The bottom line, she notes, is that early detection and intervention can help — but sometimes, a transplant is the only hope.

"When I see myself in the mirror, I'm reminded that someone's liver is inside me and I was given a second chance at life through someone who committed to be a donor," she says.

Want to help? Check out Pam Fuller's Liver Life Walk Phoenix 2012 Team Page.

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