Keisha Hill, Gleaner Writer
JUST OVER a year ago, 16-year-old Ericka Smith seemed a normal healthy child, going about her daily affairs and budding with enthusiasm as she engaged in her school activities at Bishop Gibson High School, Manchester.
However, just eight months ago, things took a dramatic turn that has left the soon-to-be 17-year-old at home and out of school.
After complaining of lower abdominal pain and cramps for a few months, her mother Carlene Williams thought Ericka was experiencing irregular menstrual symptoms and took her to the doctor. After taking her to the Mandeville Regional Hospital, she was referred to the Mandeville Health Centre, where she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and placed on medication. The symptoms gradually disappeared.
However, by September 2012, Ericka started experiencing fainting spells. "We thought it was from the anxiety of her returning to school and being around her friends after the long summer holidays. However, the fainting spells continued and I was advised by the school nurse to take her to a private doctor," Williams said.
The private doctor immediately recommended blood tests and an ultrasound, which revealed that Ericka had a swollen liver and spleen, evidence of jaundice and fluid in the stomach. She was immediately admitted to the Mandeville Regional Hospital for one week.
"The doctors were testing for every known illness that would attack the body, including lupus. One of the results showed she had Hepatitis C, another similar test showed nothing. I had them redo the test and it again showed the first result. They continued doing tests for about three months and then one night, she fell ill and I took her back to the hospital," Williams said.
This happened in early January of this year and by now Ericka's stomach had started to swell. After what proved to be a miserable wait at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), a disappointed Ericka and her mother had to wait another week before she was admitted to the facility. "I was determined that I would not have left without seeing a doctor, and as luck would have it, after she saw the doctor and was admitted, there were no beds so we had to come back home and then return," Williams said.
After she was admitted and a myriad of tests were conducted, Williams was hit with the terrible news that her daughter was diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis, in other words, Ericka is in the final stage of liver disease, her liver is damaged and she would need an immediate liver transplant to function normally.
According to Dr Robertha Miller, junior resident at the UHWI, who met Ericka in March, they felt her condition was severe enough for her to require a transplant. "When she started attending the clinic here, she was unwell. She was diagnosed with liver failure and we have been trying to get her abroad to do the transplant. It is remarkably expensive, but we have been working with a consultant. However, the process has been slow," Miller said.
Over the last few weeks, Williams has been making the fortnightly trips to the UHWI for them to withdraw the fluid from Ericka's stomach. "Her stomach gets big and by the time the fluid is withdrawn, within a few days it builds back up. Withdrawing the fluid is not definitive and it doesn't offer any treatment. We just try to make her comfortable," Miller said.
The search has been on to find a reasonable hospital that can perform the liver-transplant surgery. To date, one facility has been identified that may see the single mother of two children having to fork out US$250,000 or approximately J$25 million for the procedure.
Ericka is disheartened, as her mother, a cosmetologist, has been the sole breadwinner for her and her older sister, and based on the meagre family resources, they cannot undertake such an expensive venture. " It is hard to understand why this is happening to me. If I didn't have God and my mother, I would have given up a long time ago. I would really appreciate some help so I can do the transplant. I want to get back to the place I was before the illness and live a normal life," Ericka stated.
To date, Williams has been undertaking various methods including appeals and walkathons to raise the necessary funds. With the help of a few persons, she has been able to raise just over J$100,000. Meanwhile, an account has been set up at the Jamaica National Building Society, Mandeville Branch 105-33952 for persons to make donations.