The Challenge: Hepatitis C
Denise Bursey’s story started 31 years ago when she gave birth to her son.
“I had a Caesarian section, and I needed 14 blood transfusions. The doctors had severed one of my arteries during the Caesarian. I had to go back to the hospital six times because of hemorrhaging.”
Fast-forward 20 years.
Denise began experiencing a strange collection of symptoms, including tiredness, lack of energy, loss of appetite, itchiness, and bad pains in her side.
Denise went to her doctor.
“They found I had ulcerative colitis. That’s what was causing the pain in my side. But that was only part of the problem.”
Her doctors at UPMC also found a life-threatening disease.
“They determined I had hepatitis C. It came from my blood transfusions all those years ago.”
Hepatitis C, which has no cure, had been quietly destroying Denise’s liver.
The Path to UPMC's Liver Disease Specialists
Denise wanted to be sure she had the best care possible. She began to talk to the nurses whom she worked with at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.
“They all told me to go to Montefiore. They said they were the best specialists.”
Denise listened. She went to see the head of the Liver Disease Clinic at UPMC Montefiore.
He ran some more tests and then put Denise on the list for a liver transplant.
"He didn’t pull any punches,” she remembers. “He was worried I would have major problems from a diseased liver. I was afraid I was going to die.”
The Solution: A New Liver
Denise was on the liver transplant list for three months during which time she received three calls.
The first was to say that test results had shown that her liver was damaged. The next call came that same evening, but Denise was second in line for the liver, and the first patient received it. The third call was a charm.
“I got the call on a Saturday morning in July, 2004. I came in to Montefiore. They took 30 tubes of blood. They examined the liver and told me it was a ‘go.’ The surgery took six hours.”
Denise went to the recovery room. Three days later, she began having internal bleeding. She went back to surgery.
After two or three days in the ICU, she was well enough to be put on the floor. Two weeks later, Denise was allowed to go home.
“I believe I got excellent care,” she says. “My doctor, Dr. Michael DeVera, was very good. The nurses were very helpful. This was my first time really being in the hospital.”
The Results: A Second Chance at Life
Six months later, Denise went back to work.
Like all transplant patients, she will be on antirejection drugs for the rest of her life. Because of her hepatitis C — which could still destroy her liver — she continues to go the Center for Liver Disease, where she has her blood checked every month, and a liver biopsy every year.
But overall, life is good.
“I’m not tired any more. I have a lot more energy. I’m very busy in my church and with the choir. I like walking, and I belong to a gym.”
And what does her son think?
“He can’t believe I went through all that. He was away in college for most of it, but I showed him my scar. I joke with him that the doctor gave me the ‘Mercedes’ cut, but I didn’t get the car!”
Through it all, Denise feels very fortunate.
“I want to thank my doctors for the excellent care, and for giving me a second chance at life. When I go to the clinics, and see the same transplant patients, some are doing well and others don’t look so good. It makes you realize how blessed you are.”
Denise’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.
Learn More about Liver Transplant and Hepatitis C
UPMC HealthBeat Blog:
- Hepatitis C: Warning Signs and Symptoms
- Hope & Healing for Patients with Hepatitis C
- Life After Receiving a Liver Transplant
UPMC Center for Liver Diseases: