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15th July 2021

Embracing life after Hepatitis C

Karen Hoyt had no idea that there was anything wrong with her liver when her feet started swelling one day while she was riding her bike.

A high school teacher, adjunct professor and community volunteer with many active hobbies, Karen seemed a fit and healthy 53 year old. “I enjoyed choir, gardening and my family. Physical activities like cycling, working out and eating healthily were part of my plan to stay strong as I moved into my golden years,” Karen tells This Is MedTech.

But her swollen feet were just the start. “Overnight, my whole body became swollen and yellow,” Karen continues.

In the emergency room, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan showed that Karen’s liver was failing, but no one knew why. Further diagnostic tests revealed the cause.

Karen had hepatitis C. Often referred to as a ‘silent’ viral infection, hepatitis C can go undetected until it has caused significant damage to the liver, and is a leading cause of liver disease, liver cancer and liver transplants.

“The diagnosis was very shocking and traumatic,” Karen recalls. “I looked perfectly fine one day and was dying from liver failure the next. It was hard to understand, but technology told the truth.”

Blood tests gave Karen the diagnosis she needed to address the cause of her liver failure as soon as the medication became available. “Thankfully, I was cured of hepatitis C. My liver immediately got better and my lab work improved,” says Karen.

Karen showed her mettle once again four years later when her routine six-month scans detected a malignant tumour on her liver.

This time, her oncology team used catheters and live X-ray imaging to target the tumour directly over the course of a year, while bone scans, MRIs and lab work were conducted to ensure that the cancer was not spreading. In 2015, Karen received the liver transplant that would give her a second lease of life.

“Everything from testing the genotype of hepatitis C, all the way to the ventilator that kept me breathing during the liver transplant was miraculous,” Karen enthuses. “I was amazed at the level of expertise that my medical teams provided through advanced medical technology. If this had happened 20 years earlier, I would not have been alive.”

Eleven years on from her original diagnosis, Karen is now embracing her renewed strength, teaching weekly tai chi and yoga classes, fishing and hiking with her husband and enjoying time with her family, as well as resuming full-time teaching in the classroom.

Karen is also living a new dream supporting others going through similar health challenges, from the website and liver-friendly recipe book that she created, to her work meeting and working with patients, advocacy groups and medical experts. Her message fits with this year’s World Hepatitis Day theme of ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait. “Get tested, get treated,” Karen says.