A woman was in denial about her life-threatening liver failure until it caused vitiligo to spread to her face.
Julie Williams, 22, from New York, refused to accept her diagnosis, with it even taking five doctors to convince her she needed a life-saving liver transplant.
Miss Williams was diagnosed with the progressive liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) in 2014 after she started to develop patches of vitiligo and constant itching on the bottom of her feet.
Left exhausted and suffering from jaundice, Miss Williams’ weight plummeted from a slim 114lbs (8st 2lbs) to just 86lbs (6st 2lbs).
Since finally having the much-needed liver transplant last June, Miss Williams is gradually building up her strength at home.
Julie Williams was in denial about her life-threatening liver failure until it caused vitiligo to spread to her face. It even took five doctors to convince her she needed a life-saving liver transplant. Miss Williams is pictured after the operation, showing off her surgery’s scar
After spending three months on the transplant list, Miss Williams was told on June 6 a suitable donor liver had become available and she would have the operation the following day. Pictured in hospital, she spent three days in intensive care and over a week on a trauma ward
An animal lover, Miss Williams (pictured before on the farm where she lives with her aunt and uncle) refused to accept her diagnosis due to the fear it would stop her caring for the cattle
Speaking of her symptoms, Miss Williams said: ‘Out of nowhere, about four years ago, I started getting vitiligo and very bad itching on the bottom of my feet.
‘It felt like poison ivy that no matter how much you itched it or if you put anything on it, nothing would relieve it.
‘So, I had blood tests and biopsies done, and that’s when I was diagnosed with PSC.
‘The most terrifying news I’ve heard in my life was that I would need a transplant and I was in total denial.’
Miss Williams tolerated her vitiligo until it spread to her face, which shattered her confidence.
‘The itchy feet made it impossible for me to sleep. Not long after that my eyes and skin became jaundice and I was feeling constantly tired,’ she said.
‘I had this feeling of sickness almost all of the time so I could barely manage to eat anything.
‘The final symptom was my spleen becoming very enlarged, so I saw four different doctors to get all of their opinions because I was in such a state of denial.
‘The outcomes were all the same but the fifth doctor I saw was the one who I felt most comfortable with. She gave me a much more positive outlook on what was to come.’
Pictured before her transplant, Miss Williams’ weight plummeted from 114lbs (8st 2lbs) to just 86lbs (6st 2lbs). She also developed jaundice and battled constant fatigue
Since having the surgery, Miss Williams now weighs a healthier 7st 3lbs (101lbs)
WHAT IS PRIMARY SCLEROSING CHOLANGITIS (PSC)?
Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a rare chronic liver disease in which the bile ducts inside and outside the liver progressively decrease in size due to inflammation and scarring.
Many people have no symptoms at first, however, early warning signs can include tiredness and abdominal discomfort.
Late symptoms include itching, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), fever, shaking and chills.
At present there is no known cure or specific treatment for PSC and preliminary trials are still ongoing.
In the book ‘Blumgart’s Surgery of the Liver, Biliary Tract and Pancreas’, the medical authors wrote that vitiligo can be an early symptom of PSC.
Vitiligo is when white patches develop on the skin. It is caused by the lack of melanin, a pigment in the skin.
Current evidence suggests that the disease may be triggered by an unknown bacteria or virus in people who are genetically programmed to get the disease
Source: British Liver Trust
After spending three months on the transplant list, Miss Williams was told on June 6 last year a suitable donor liver had become available and she would have the transplant the following day.
‘I was in theatre for over six hours and by the end they couldn’t stitch me up on the inside because there was so much swelling,’ she said.
‘They just stitched my skin up on the outside, so nothing was exposed.
‘The next day I went back into surgery, so they could stitch me up properly on the inside and I spent three days in the intensive care unit.’
Miss Williams then spent more than a week in a trauma ward.
It was not until 12 days after the operation that she was finally able to stand and walk again.
Pictured before her transplant, Miss Williams only trusted the opinion of the fifth doctors she saw due to her having ‘a much more positive outlook on what was to come’
Pictured before, Miss Williams worried a transplant would prevent her attending farm shows
Miss Williams, who lives on her aunt and uncle’s farm, denied being unwell for so long due to the fear that her prognosis would stop her from doing the things she loves.
While ill, she struggled with not being able to tend to the farm animals or show the cattle in agricultural shows.
‘I wanted to run from it because I was so terrified. But my motto is to have faith over fear,’ Miss Williams.
‘After the transplant, the pain was so intense and I could hardly walk.
‘It hurt to even move, but after a few days I could already feel a difference in my overall health.
‘Since then, everything has been going well in my recovery. I’m no longer jaundice, and I can now pretty much eat anything within reason.
‘Before going into surgery, I only weighed just over 6st (84lbs) but now I’m a much happier 7st 3lbs (101lbs) and I’m slowly gaining my muscle back.’
Miss Williams (pictured after) is now recovering at home and slowly regaining her strength
Pictured after the transplant, it took Miss Williams 12 days before she could stand or walk
In September, Miss Williams took part in a 3.1-mile ‘Liver Life’ walk with her aunt.
‘There are still some things I can’t do and I will miss out on, but I feel like this has all opened up so many more possibilities for me now,’ she said.
‘Sometimes thinking back on it makes me very emotional, but I’ve had such a strong, positive and loving support system throughout all of this.
‘I’ve since been able to attend the agricultural fairs with my family and friends.’
Miss Williams shares regular updates on her recovery on her Instagram page @countrygirl735 in the hope of educating people on the importance of transplants.
‘To anyone going through a tough time, I just want to show that things will get better. Keep a positive outlook and do fun things to occupy your mind,’ she said.
‘I chose to put my story out there on Instagram to inspire people, and I hope that by sharing my story I will inspire more people to change their outlook on what they’re going through.’