07/25/11 — Local woman now waiting for a liver

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Local woman now waiting for a liver

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 25, 2011 1:46 PM

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Joan Williams

Joan Williams has always enjoyed being part of the Wayne County Ladies Auxiliary, supporting the area firemen and community wherever she could.

Currently, the president of the group she has participated in for more than 30 years, she said this will likely be her last year at the helm.

Her health is failing.

"I've been sick on and off for like a year," she said. "They didn't know what was wrong with me."

Doctor visits and a stream of tests found nothing. It turned out to be an unlikely diagnosis. Cirrhosis of the liver, typically associated with extreme alcohol use or hepatitis.

"They thought of everything in the world but my liver," Mrs. Williams says now. "(But) I had non-alcohol cirrhosis of the liver because I have never had a drink in my life."

Sent to Duke, she was diagnosed in April and hospitalized briefly.

"I told the doctor, 'Just make sure I'm out by Mother's Day,'" she said. "The doctor said, 'I hope you're still here Mother's Day.'"

Without medication, she fears she will not survive.

"You can look at me and tell when my levels are up," she said. "My color changes in my face. In my liver, my ammonia levels get high. They say it's like my liver is drawing up."

It's uncertain what may have caused the condition. Mrs. Williams said she sustained severe injuries during a car wreck in 1993, during which she was told she might never walk again.

"But thank the Lord I can," she said. "I think it might have come from a lot of medications I took then."

She is also a diabetic and the latest complications have sapped much of her energy.

"It's very depressing, but I'm making it," she said.

Mrs. Williams, 60, is now a candidate for a liver transplant, but there are no promises she will even be put on a transplant list.

"They say I'm high risk so they want me to be at a hospital of excellence," she said, explaining that could be anywhere in the U.S. and once a donor becomes available, she would have four hours to get to the hospital. "We're still going through the financial stuff. You have got to have the money upfront before you're even considered."

Not to pay for the entire surgery -- which will cost around $458,000, she said -- the family actually has insurance. Clayton, her husband of 42 years, is retired from Arrington Fire Department and now works at Georgia-Pacific.

Before she can be placed on the list, though, she has to raise money for the anti-rejection medication.

"I asked them about having insurance and what if I didn't? Would that matter?" she said. "They said, 'No, ma'am. We can't give them away.'"

Mrs. Williams said she was told by medical officials that she needs to raise between $10,000 and $12,000.

"We'll have to stay 30 to 45 days after my surgery," she explained. "I have to stay within a certain length and distance (from the hospital) in case of rejection. The main thing is to raise money for the medicine.

"It'll be close to $7,000 for rejection medication and then we have to raise $3,300 to stay up there. Plus Clayton will be out of work. We have two insurances but that's still not enough."

So now the couple that has spent the bulk of their married life responding to other families in need, is reliant on the community to come to their aid.

"I'm scared to death," she said. "But I know the Lord, I have left it in His hands. Whatever happens, happens."

A fundraiser has been set up to offset some of the family's medical expenses. A barbecue and barbecue chicken plate sale will be held on Saturday at United in Christ Church, 1314 Patetown Road, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Plates will be sold for $7 each.

Friends and fire departments in the area are coordinating the event.

"She needs it, she has to have the money before she can get the transplant," said June Smith, who has known Mrs. Williams through the Ladies Auxiliary for close to 30 years.

"We try to help our own," she said. "We do not have an awful lot of monies but we do have some money. Like I told her, any of us are willing to go out and work, all they have to do is let us know.

"She's a very sweet person, a hard-working person and she's been very active in the Auxiliary. We want to do what we can to see that she does get a chance for this medical thing."

Donations can also be sent to Arrington Fire Department, 570 Emmaus Church Road, Dudley, NC 28333, earmarked to the Joan Williams Medical Fundraiser.