“You have a chronic liver disease called autoimmune hepatitis.”
“Will I be able to have children?”
It was during this exchange with Dr. Fernando Alvarez, a pediatric gastroenterologist at CHU Sainte-Justine, that I learned of my diagnosis at the age of 17. I had an incurable disease. Faced with the unknown, I was petrified. My world had just been turned upside down. More than anything, I was afraid that this disease and the treatments would affect my fertility and prevent me from ever having a family.
At the time, I was playing sports and modeling, I was eating well, I was in love and surrounded by friends… From the outside, I looked like a healthy teenager. But my immune system had decided to become my enemy. My liver, one of my vital organs, was to become the bane of my existence.
Ironically, I had just started CEGEP at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, which faces Sainte-Justine. I never imagined I would have to put my studies on hold to become a patient across the street. Illness wasn’t on my radar. I’d only been to CHU Sainte-Justine for minor fractures before. Soon, hospitalizations and medical follow-ups were a part of my everyday life.
I can’t count the number of appointments I’ve had for blood tests and medication adjustments. The key, I was told, was to find the right drug formula. It would be the only cocktail I’d ever taste, since alcohol would certainly never be an indulgence of mine. My liver was too badly damaged.
Gratitude and resilience
It’s hard for me to look back on those life-changing months. Sometimes, I wonder how I found the courage go back to school, sports, my love life, and my friends.
My resilience had a lot to do with it, but in retrospect, it was really Sainte-Justine and its exceptional staff that allowed me to pull through. To pick myself up and accept my new reality. The health care team became like family to me: they kept me informed, supported me, and gave me the strength I so desperately needed.
Autoimmune hepatitis is a war I’ll be fighting for the rest of my life, but Sainte-Justine helped me win the initial battles. Just to paint a picture: when I was diagnosed, I was scared to death of needles, of blood, of being sick, of being in the hospital, of gaining weight from treatment, of not being able to pursue a career in law, and of losing all my friends and my partner. I thought I was becoming a less bright, less attractive version of myself.
The teams at Sainte-Justine helped me vanquish those fears. Through their compassion, they healed both my physical and mental wounds. Sainte-Justine took care of me until I turned 18, then made sure that my transfer to an adult hospital went as smoothly as when I was first admitted a year earlier.
Now, I’m almost 25. I’m a member of the Bar of Montreal and have been a lawyer for one year. I’m pursuing the career of my dreams and working in a field I love, health law, where I’m helping to advance the medical research industry. Thanks to medication, I can now lead a relatively normal life, albeit with medical follow-ups and minor day-to-day challenges.
This year, as a tribute to the Sainte-Justine family that’s become like my own, I’m proud to be a member of the Young Professionals Committee for the 36th Cachou Tournament for Sainte-Justine. I’m eager to give back as much as possible to the institution that’s given me so much. My goal is to help raise the $2 million that Sainte-Justine needs to continue to provide the best possible care to children and families across Quebec.
“Yes, you’ll be able to have children. We will take care of you.”
Thank you, Sainte-Justine.
Former patient and member of the Cachou Tournament for Sainte-Justine Young Professionals Committee
*The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and should not be considered to be those of the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation.