Liver problems are nothing new for Julie Elders' family - she and her siblings all suffer from chronic hepatitis B, an infection of the liver, and see their doctors annually to keep the disease in check.
The Waukesha, Wis., woman was able to lead a relatively normal life until four years ago, when she found out she had cirrhosis - or scarring - of the liver, from the Hepatitis B.
Three years later, as a result of the cirrhosis, she developed varices (varicose veins) in her esophagus and needed to see her doctor every eight weeks for an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), a test during which a doctor uses an endoscope to examine the lining of her esophagus, stomach and duodenum.
If the varices burst, Julie might die, which was why her doctor needed to watch her so closely. Julie also suffered from ascites, a condition that caused fluid to build up in her stomach, making her look like she was pregnant. "I couldn't sleep, I couldn't walk, I couldn't sit," Julie said. "My life was very uncomfortable."
In March 2018, Julie's gastroenterologist referred her to John Rice, MD, a hepatologist at the UW Health Transplant Program. The gastroenterologist felt she needed more help than he would be able to give her, and he knew UW Health has a stellar reputation for helping patients who need a liver transplant.
Rather than traveling to Madison, Julie saw Dr. Rice at UW Health's Transplant Clinic in Waukesha - just a 10-minute drive from her house. "It was really nice because I didn't have to drive all the way to Madison," she said.
Given the severity of her liver disease, Dr. Rice knew a transplant was her only option. She went on the waitlist in July and got her liver in September.
"I was jumping for joy, and then I was crying when I found out they had a new liver for me," Julie said. That gift of life, and short waiting time, turned out to be even more critical because a small amount of liver cancer - a common complication of cirrhosis and Hepatitis B - was discovered in Julie's sick liver after it was removed.
Since her transplant, Julie has improved remarkably. She can undergo all her bloodwork locally, and she has seen Dr. Rice in both Waukesha and Madison. "The care at UW Health is unbelievable," she said. "Everyone I have encountered has been phenomenal."