"I'm Losing Hope": Woman Prepares Family For The Worst While She Waits For A Liver Transplant

"I'm Losing Hope": Woman Prepares Family For The Worst While She Waits For A Liver Transplant

Over the years, she survived 70 rounds of chemotherapy to fight cancer. Now, she's fighting the battle to stay alive.

Erika Zak is desperately waiting for a new liver but is slowly losing hope—in life and in the system. About a year ago, Erika and her family moved across the country to be closer to the Cleveland Clinic. They wanted to be ready for the moment they'd get the call telling them that they'd found a liver for Erika. They moved, thinking the whole process would take around three to five months, according to CNN. They thought that she would get a new liver, they'd go through with the transplant, and that they'd start the slow process of healing and recovery. 



Instead, she's now facing quite a difficult situation, where she's stuck in the bureaucratic process of who gets a liver and who doesn't. "We've been waiting and waiting and waiting," says Erika, 39. "I'm losing hope that I will ever get a liver." Her condition seems to be getting worse with each passing day. She vomits blood. Her skin peels off. Her legs, hips and feet swell to the point where she feels like she's carrying an extra person on her.



Erika was initially diagnosed with cancer about five years ago. Back then, she wrote to her newborn daughter, Loie, that she hoped to be around "to tell you this story has a happy ending." She did survive cancer, but she also had to undergo surgery to remove two tumors and that went terribly wrong, causing severe damage to her liver. Now, the conversations with her daughter have grown more sobering.



"Mommy can't do this for much longer," she tells Loie. "There's a chance we might go home soon to Portland." "But that means you won't get a liver," Loie responds. "I know that," says Erika. "That means you're going to die," her 5-year-old girl says. "That's right. That is what will happen." Erika's story first came out in  2018 on Mother's Day. She has an ongoing battle with the insurance company UnitedHealthcare after she was denied coverage for her transplant. 



Running out of options, the desperate mother penned a letter, a plea directly to the CEO of UnitedHealth Group, David Wichmann. However, things did not go in her favor and she blasted the company and spoke about the shockingly incompetent manner in which her case was handled.  She described a series of errors made in the review process. The nation's largest medical insurance company had failed her. 



"Given that my life hangs in the balance based on this review," she wrote, "it is unconscionable it has not been undertaken with the level of competence and professionalism anyone would expect of UHC." The company ultimately did approve her coverage, but this decision only came after the family told the insurance giants that they had turned to the media to help get their story out to the public. 



This, of course, caused a social media outcry and people from all corners of the world came in to help Erika, with some even offering to give her their own liver. Sadly, with Erika's condition, the only liver her body can use is that of a dead person's. A family in Cleveland opened their home rent-free. Erika, her husband Scott, and Loie picked up their belongings in Portland, Oregon, and transported their lives, in the hopes of finally getting a new liver. 



For the last 15 months, Erika remained silent, she just wasn't ready to talk. She'd almost come to terms with the situation, but a recent note from a friend stirred up her fight again. Her friend told her he was at rock bottom five years ago when he read her blog about her cancer battle. "He snapped out of it and is flourishing now," she says. "That kind of lit a fire under me to say, 'OK, I'm going to do one more push. I'm going to try one more time to get the word out to try to get my liver."



Recently, she took to Twitter to post: And I still wait. Time is running out. She also posted on social media platform Instagram: I feel beyond loved and supported by all of you these past couple days. I reluctantly asked for help thinking I had nothing more to lose. I am in awe of the power of community, connection, and your compassion. Finally, she agreed to an interview, but she did not want to be videotaped or pictured. "I just don't want anyone to see me like this," she says.



With the clock ticking, she says, it's important to make people "more aware of how dire my situation is." She says UnitedHealthcare has covered her care in Cleveland and that there haven't been any new insurance issues. The battle she's now fighting is to live. Erika is mostly confined to bed. Over the years, she survived 70 rounds of chemotherapy to treat colorectal cancer. She's also had multiple procedures and a microwave ablation surgery that went terribly wrong and left a fist-sized hole in her liver.



Pain courses through her body. "Liver failure is the worst thing ever," she says. "Seeing your body evaporate is the worst." But, despite it all, she still wants to live. "I'm definitely scared of death," she says. "But there's more I want to do. There's more that I want to see; more life I want to live." She thinks of her husband and her baby girl. "I'm more scared of what I leave behind," she added. 




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