Imagine this: you're a perfectly healthy 14-year-old girl romping around the Kootenays. Out of the blue you get sick with a virus that infects one to two people in North America annually.
Ten days later doctors tell your family that if you don't get a new liver in 12 hours you'll die. Then the good news - a liver has been found.
The transplant is completed and things are looking up until a year later, when the doctors tell you the liver you received was infected with Hepatitis B. That means your new liver will slowly stop functioning but the next time around you'll be much less likely to get on the transplant list because the Hep B makes you a risky candidate.
This was the scenario faced by Squamish resident Shelby Miller. At 28, Miller said she had written her will, sold her car and was preparing to live out the last two weeks of her life when she got a call from the hospital telling her a new liver had been found. Four years later she is a healthy mountain bike enthusiast who recently turned a life-long hobby of making jewelry into a full time affair. One of her first orders of business was to create a bracelet for the Canadian Liver Foundation's (CLF) national campaign to raise awareness and money for the liver disease research that saved her life.
"Some of the research they've done has helped me to be alive today," she said. "They're bringing more awareness to Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C - even me telling you that I have Hepatitis B is a big deal because when people hear it they associate it with drug use and promiscuous behaviour, there are some stigmas attached to it."
Miller's sterling silver bracelet was created for last year's What a Girl Wants gala put on by the CLF. The high-end affair, which takes place this year on May 19 (World Hepatitis Day), features a multi-course dinner, live and silent auctions and live entertainment to highlight the importance of liver health and honour women as health guardians.
"Her story is very unique, she's an exceptional person. We feel very grateful because liver disease is something that people don't want to talk about, it's got a stigma.
"In the last couple of months more and more young people have been diagnosed and they're saying, 'look, look at who we are, we're like everybody else,'" said The Liver Foundation's regional director for BC/Yukon, Elena Murgoci. "The more that people know about it the more people will talk about it and not have a fear."
Miller's bracelets sold out at last year's What a Girl Wants event so she's decided to tweak the design and promote it again for this year's gala, as well as offering the jewelry to CLF liver awareness campaigns across the country. All proceeds go the CLF.
"Because of research the CLF has done my new liver is clean and good to go, I can have babies! It's great, it's really exciting," laughed Miller. "It's a labour of love. I've been lucky twice. I've had my life saved. I want to get everybody wearing these things."
Handcrafted and polished, Miller said the unusual design of the bracelets makes for a great conversation starter to raise the topic of liver health.
"For me growing up with it as a teenager it has this stigma attached so I kept quiet so what we're trying to do is raise awareness about liver disease, liver health and raise money for research and that's where the bracelet comes in," she continued. "It's a great way to segue a conversation."
The bracelets are available on Miller's website, www.shelbymiller.ca. For more information on the CLF go to www.liver.ca and for tickets to the What a Girl Wants gala follow the links on the main CLF page.