LIVER FAILURE: Acetaminophen, alcohol a dangerous mix - KMSP-TV

LIVER FAILURE: Acetaminophen, alcohol a dangerous mix

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For most 23-year-olds, life is just getting started, but the life of a young woman in Hutchinson, Minn., could be over in a couple of weeks unless she gets a second life-saving organ transplant in time.

When Heather Eckstrom was a teenager, she needed a liver transplant. For years, she took medicine every 12 hours to stay alive -- but last year, she got word from her doctors that the liver was failing. In January, doctors gave her 3 months to live.

"It's been a rough few months knowing that time could be running out, but I'm trying to keep positive and keep hope," Eckstrom admitted.

For now, writing about her life gives Eckstrom peace.

"Hospital stays are always so exhausting," Eckstrom said. "It isn't a place I go to get well. It's a place I go to get treated."

Over the past several weeks, Eckstrom has been in and out of the hospital, and time is running out. Yet, while Eckstrom admits it isn't easy to go through daily life while wondering whether she'll survive another month, this isn't the first transplant process she's been through.

At 17, Eckstrom went drinking with friends for only the second time in her life. In her own words, she drank a lot and then came home and took acetaminophen -- and that combination killed her liver.

"By Tuesday, I was in a coma," she said. "By Friday, I had a liver transplant and woke up on Friday."

Nearly 6 years later, Eckstrom is still paying the price for that mistake.

"I just wanted to go to school. I just wanted to go to college, and I just wanted to be a normal 18-year-old -- and I haven't been normal since I had that transplant," she said.

Now, friends and family members are doing all they can to find a new donor, raising awareness on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #HelpHeather and encouraging people to get tested. So far, her CaringBridge site has had more than 60,000 visits.

"Seriously, 100 percent restored my faith in humanity because there are people I don't' even know offering me a vital organ to keep me alive," Eckstrom said.

Yet, there has been no match so far -- but Eckstrom says she is at peace with whatever happens even while she continues to hope that a new liver will come in time.

"I would ask people -- not even for me -- just do what you can to save someone's life, whether that means donating money, being a friend smiling at them, or -- you know -- giving them part of your liver," she said with a smile. "Take care of each other, and if you would like to start with me, that would be great."

Chronic acetaminophen use and chronic alcohol abuse have been separately linked to kidney and liver disease. Eckstrom admits that at 17, she certainly wasn't mature enough to know the risks, and that's why she continues to speak with youth groups about the dangers.

Additional resources:

- Helping Heather via gofundme
- Helping Heather on Facebook

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