Oakdale woman battles rare liver disease

by Tori Hamby

Calvary Baptist Church of Charlotte will raise money July 29 to help the Bowers family (pictured with dog, Max) cover Cheryl Bowers’ medical expenses. (Tori Hamby/MIM photo)

Cheryl Bowers doesn’t know when she will need a liver transplant.

It could be two weeks or 20 years, but her doctors say she will need one at some point. The 62-year-old Oakdale resident does know, however, that 98 percent of her liver is scarred due to a rare disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), also known as nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

Doctors diagnosed Bowers with the condition in October 2009, telling her that her diabetes likely caused fat to build up in her liver, leading to severe inflammation and damage. Fatty liver is sometimes caused by obesity, but in Bowers’ case, the diagnosis came as a shock. She had no issues with her weight or history of drug or alcohol use.

“I came from a family where we just didn’t drink, smoke or take drugs,” Bowers said. “I would even avoid taking a Tylenol if I could.”

Bowers and her husband, Steve, met as children at Calvary Baptist Church in Charlotte. The couple grew up together, attending West Mecklenburg High School, and after almost 43 years of marriage have three children, 10 grandchildren and one adopted Chihuahua, Max.

Calvary Baptist will rally around the Bowers family on July 29, when it holds its second major fundraiser, a benefit dinner and concert to help the family with future medical expenses. When, or if, the time for a liver transplant arises, money from the fundraisers will help cover the surgery. A previous church benefit netted about $4,500.

Cheryl Bowers said she began to notice that something wasn’t right with her body several years before her official diagnosis. She worked at a local Wachovia branch and began making uncharacteristic mistakes.

A sympathetic co-worker helped cover for her, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that age wasn’t causing her to mess up tasks she never had a problem with before.

Then, in late 2009, reoccurring stomach pain finally forced her to go to the emergency room at Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville. That night doctors performed a CT scan and found that her liver was severely enlarged.

“I didn’t think that much about it at the time,” Cheryl Bowers said. “I just thought that they hadn’t really done much to help me with my stomach pain.”

Some minor prodding from friends convinced her that she needed to see a specialist a few days later. On Oct. 9, 2009, Cheryl Bowers and her husband learned of the severity of her condition – only 2 percent of her liver was functional.

Several months later she quit her job to go on long-term disability. The couple moved out of their home into an apartment for a year and eventually into their current, rented home. Steve Bowers cannot walk without a cane due to a condition called drop foot syndrome, so the couple decided to move to a smaller abode.

Worse news came in March, however, after Wells Fargo absorbed her former employer, Wachovia. Her long-term disability was up and she had been terminated.

Since then, she has been trying to get approved for Social Security disability benefits, but the process has been arduous. She has yet to be approved.

Added to fears of liver failure, her liver disease causes a brain disorder – encephalopathy. Toxins not filtered by her liver make their way up to her brain, sometimes causing confusion and disordered thinking. As a result, she’s had to surrender her driver’s license.

“In other words, no stress,” Cheryl
Bowers said.

A liver transplant could cost the family anywhere from $500,000 to $600,000, plus thousands of dollars per month in anti-rejection medication, Steve Bowers said.

But until then, he said, they will continue to hope for the best. Cheryl Bowers’ medication sometimes causes her to become drowsy for days at a time – her husband once had to haul her around in his lap while sitting in his wheelchair at a family outing – but she hasn’t had any major health scares yet.

“Even when you you’re having problems like this, there’s a peace in God that will get you through,” she said.

Want to go?

What: Fundraiser dinner and concert for Cheryl Bowers

When: July 29

Where: Calvary Baptist Church of Charlotte, 10301 Harwood Lane

Details: (including time and cost): 704-394-6181

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply