1st annual Cornwall Stroll for Liver goes ahead June 22; Mayor Bernadette Clement to speak

Above, The Demerchant family. Courtesy photo

CORNWALL — The Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF)’s 1st Annual Cornwall Stroll for Liver will take place on Saturday, June 22, from 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. at the St. Lawrence Power Development Visitor Centre.  The event begins at 7:30 p.m. and includes presentations on liver disease and organ donation awareness, light refreshments, a raffle and more. Colby Demerchant, a local resident coping with liver disease and championing this event, will be our emcee. Mayor Bernadette Clement will be providing opening remarks.

The CLF’s Annual “Stroll for Liver” is a family event where people of all ages can walk in support of families living with liver disease in their community. The Cornwall Stroll for Liver is a community-based outdoor 5km run or walk event in which individual or team participation is encouraged.  We welcome champion supporters, along with their staff, colleagues, families and friends to attend or participate and raise pledges in support of liver research and local education to raise awareness and improve early diagnosis and treatment of Canadians living with liver disease.

The liver plays a critical role in maintaining our overall health. Getting involved in physical activities is a great way to keep this vital organ healthy. By taking a stroll or run, you can take control of your liver health and, you may actually help reduce your risk of developing not only liver disease but also other health conditions including diabetes and heart disease.

The most prevalent liver disease in Ontario is Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, and amongst children, Biliary Atresia. Stroll for Liver participants can create teams to walk in honour of or in
memory of a liver disease patient, families, caregivers and medical professionals. Patient stories are shared to help us understand that liver disease needs more research to address this major health concern. At each event we do this, to remind people that liver disease is a silent disease. It is one of the lesser known and misunderstood diseases today and may affect 1 in 4 people or specifically 11,719 in Cornwall!

This is the 1st Cornwall Stroll for Liver and this year the Canadian Liver Foundation celebrates 50 years as a charitable organization. Beyond the fundraising stroll, this event offers liver-healthy refreshments and we will hear from families touched by liver disease.

Information on this event can be found at: https://www.liver.ca/stroll-for-liver/cornwall-stroll/

Cornwall Stroll for Liver Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/412828779527528

The Demerchant Family story:

My name is Colby Demerchant and I have a liver disease. Although I have Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis it does not define who I am. I am so much more. I am a teacher, friend, brother, son, husband, and most importantly, a father. All of my other accomplishments pale in comparison to being a father to my three beautiful children. My liver disease has motivated me to bring awareness to the important role that our liver plays in our body. With over 500 bodily functions, I am learning something new about the liver on a daily basis. I have not always felt passionate about liver awareness. Although I have been living with a liver disease for several years, I just felt that it was something private about me and I never shared publicly. I lived an active lifestyle and I figured that would be enough to keep my liver healthy for as long as I lived. I am finding out how naïve that belief was.    

I try to be the best role model I can to my children, demonstrating the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle. I do my best, despite my liver condition, to continue to be active and include my children in the activities that I love in hopes that they will share my passions, and as a way to spend as much time with them as I can. My hope is that the healthier my body can be, the longer I can have with my liver. With each passing day, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the energy to be active. As the disease has taken a greater toll on my life, so too has my desire to create awareness around PSC and to become an advocate for my condition.  My first step is sharing my story.

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2006. It was a lengthy process of poking, prodding and drinking what seemed like gallons of vile tasting concoctions for a number of different tests. The doctors following me were stumped as to what could be bothering me, all they knew for sure was that my liver functions tests were atypically high. My care was eventually transferred to a gastroenterologist and after a colonoscopy my Ulcerative Colitis was confirmed.

The gastroenterologist informed me at this time that five percent of patients with Ulcerative Colitis also develop a liver disease that causes the bile ducts in the liver to shrink. He was concerned that because my liver function tests were abnormally high that this may be my case. He did, however, want to give it a year to allow my new medication to get my colon under control and see if my liver functions returned to normal with improved gut health. At year’s end, my liver was still working harder than it should. A liver biopsy was scheduled and in the summer of 2007, I was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC).    

At the time of my diagnosis I was told that I may or may not eventually need a liver transplant, we would just have to wait and see as the disease affects everyone differently. Being 18 at the time, I thought that I was invincible. What I heard was, other people need a transplant. I convinced myself that I would be one of those people who have this disease but wouldn’t be affected by it. I have been living with PSC now for 13 years and I have been fortunate that it has not affected my day to day life until recently. This past calendar year has been one of the most stressful of my life as I have had two separate hospital stays and a hernia surgery connected to the amount of fluid buildup in my abdomen (ascites) due to my liver slowly, but surely shutting down. My recent health issues made me realize that I am not invincible, and I have been rudely awakened to the magnitude of the illness that I have been living with.  

During a recent visit to the Toronto Transplant clinic I was told that I will likely need a liver transplant in my future, just not my immediate future. With no known cure for PSC or even any medications to slow its effects my ultimate goal for getting involved with the Canadian Liver Foundation is to help fundraise for research in order to find a cure for PSC and other liver diseases. Secondly, I want to change the narrative and stigma that often surrounds liver disease. Many people, including some health professionals who are not familiar with my condition, falsely assume that I have brought my illness upon myself through excessive drinking. Several years ago an ultrasound technician once showed me what healthy liver tissue looks like and he said to me “once you stop drinking, your whole liver will look like this”.  In fact, I don’t drink alcohol at all, yet my condition continues to worsen. A myth surrounding liver disease is that it only affects alcoholics, when in reality over 100 liver diseases exist. I am motivated to bring liver awareness to my community’s members and health professionals alike.

The best way I know how to accomplish my goals is by sharing a bit about myself. I love getting outside and being active regardless of the weather; there are awesome activities that each season brings. I am an avid sports fan, and since I was old enough to walk I have played as many sports as I could. At a younger age I strived to be able to play competitively at a high level. Now sports have turned into an avenue to stay connected to friends, and to be as healthy as possible. I want to be an example that someone with liver disease can live an active lifestyle; it is not all hospital stays and an endless cycle of tests and procedures. That is way I am collaborating with the Canadian Liver Foundation to organize an exciting and fun night run and stroll. I want to ‘shine a light’ on liver disease. I welcome everyone to come out and be enLIGHTened on how liver disease affects 1 in 4 Canadians.

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