TIMBLIN — June Rhines Richards, who grew up in Brookville, is waiting for her miracle to happen. Diagnosed in 2013 with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, she is looking for someone who can become the liver donor she needs to live a long and healthy life.
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is also known as nonalcoholic cirrhosis. “This disease causes your liver to develop scar tissue that eventually stops the liver from functioning properly,” she said. When the liver stops functioning, it does not clean the toxins out of the body and does not allow blood to flow properly.
NASH is a hereditary disease. Her mother died from NASH in 2015 at the age of 72. “Because she was much older a transplant was really not an option,” Richards said. “My doctor said it is becoming a major problem in America today.”
Following her diagnosis, “I have done all that can be done to keep my liver healthy,” she said. “I have followed my doctor’s advice and taken Vitamin E, Milk Thistle and lost weight, but still the disease is progressing. Now I am beginning to feel some of the complications.”
Her doctor, a UPMC liver specialist, advised her last year “to start looking for a living donor, someone who can donate a piece of their healthy liver,” allowing her liver to regenerate. “I was told that because of my age (48) a regular transplant from a deceased donor is not possible,” she said. The doctor told her that “there are so many people who are currently on the national liver donor list. You need to be near death to be considered for a deceased donor and most people on that list pass away before a liver becomes available. Finding a living donor is my only chance to live.”
She has five brothers and sisters, “but none of them are viable donors,” she said.
Richards is married to Wayne Richards and they are the parents of a 6-year-old daughter, Abby. “I want to see my little girl grow up and have a future,” she said. “She is my main reason for living. I don’t want her to have to grow up without her mommy.”
Richards said she has a great support group, including “my family, my wonderful church family and friends. My husband is very supportive and has stood by me through this whole process.”
To help with the search for a living donor, her sister-in-law Jen and brother John have started a Facebook group called June’s Journey, located under groups. “That page has information on the process to become a living donor, and how to register to be a living donor,” she said.
Anyone wanting more information can also email Jen Rhines at email@example.com.
Richards will be going to Pittsburgh July 8-10 to be evaluated, “to make sure everything is okay for me to have a transplant. Then they will start screening the people who have already signed up to be a living donor. If we can find a viable donor, I am hoping to have the transplant by the end of summer, and go back to a full life,” she said.
“I feel that God has more in my life that I need to do, and I truly believe God will provide a donor,” Richards said.