Delilah Saunders in recovery from acute liver failure

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Delilah Saunders is a fighter. An artist, an author and a composer, the Inuk for Labrador is also an activist on behalf of Indigenous women. It was no surprise that Saunders was awarded the 2017 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work as a passionate and dedicated advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

On December 8, Saunders, 26, was in critical condition and admitted to an Ottawa hospital. She was diagnosed with acute liver failure. She believes that the amount of Tylenol that she was taking for jaw pain was responsible for her liver condition. Saunders’ lawyer Caryma Sa’d said that type of pain medication has been linked to liver injury. Sa’d added that Saunders is seeking affordable dental surgery to clear up her ailment.

Doctors said Saunders needed a liver transplant to survive but they couldn’t give her one because of rules. Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN), the agency that co-ordinates organ and tissue donations in Ontario, in a document states that as part of their criteria determining who gets an organ transplant that any person who has used alcohol and/or illicit drug misuse within six months are not eligible. There is evidence that some liver transplants don’t succeed as some alcoholics drink too early after the operation according to several supervising doctors.

Nevertheless, the Inuk activist has garnered interest and forced a look into Ontario’s transplant policy. Saunders has initiated a campaign to have the policy changed and Amnesty International and Aboriginal groups have joined her. Her struggle has inspired vigils and petitions across Canada.

CBC News reported that TGLN emailed them and said the criteria they used was based on

“jurisdictional reviews and advice from expert working groups.” A soon-to-be-completed three-year pilot program this summer has a mandate “to determine if there is an evidence-based basis to change the criteria.” In the meantime “the listing criteria for liver transplants remain unchanged,” according to the organization.

Fortunately for Saunders a Christmas miracle as her friends and family calls it has happened. In late December, she was released from the Toronto General Hospital’s transplant unit. Doctors have said she will not likely need a liver transplant anytime soon. She told CBC that the doctors “were really surprised and pleased at how my body fought back.”

While she out of danger for the time being, Saunders said she plans to keep working to assist other patients who are denied treatment that could save their lives because of the alcohol-use policy. “What I’ll really be taking away is that extra assurance that I have to speak out. I have that responsibility,” she said in an interview with CBC. “I’m just grateful to be alive. I’m so grateful that I’m still here and that I can still fight, and it’s really given me an extra boost of fire, of drive, to be able to fight … for people’s rights.”

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