News / Toronto

Inuk activist with liver disease improves but family hopes for wider policy change

Delilah Saunders' brother said in an interview that the organization that oversees organ donations in Ontario needs to change its six-month abstinence rule.

The family of Miriam Saunders, right, who is struggling with acute liver failure, is expressing optimism about her improving condition, while urging the rapid end of policies that deny transplants to alcoholics who haven't abstained from drinking for half a year.

Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The family of Miriam Saunders, right, who is struggling with acute liver failure, is expressing optimism about her improving condition, while urging the rapid end of policies that deny transplants to alcoholics who haven't abstained from drinking for half a year.

TORONTO — The family of an Inuk woman struggling with acute liver failure is expressing optimism about her improving condition, while urging the rapid end of policies that deny transplants to alcoholics who haven't abstained from drinking for half a year.

Garrett Saunders said in an interview from the transplant centre at the University Health Network in Toronto that his older sister, Delilah Saunders, showed further signs of improvement over the weekend and on Monday.

The 22-year-old said the family from Labrador is pleased with the 26-year-old woman's progress and is increasingly hopeful she won't require a liver transplant, though that is not yet definitely the case.

Meanwhile, Saunders also read a statement from the family which says the Trillium Gift of Life Network, the organization that oversees organ donations in Ontario, needs to change the six-month abstinence rule.

He said in the statement that the policy tends to be particularly harmful to marginal and poor groups and may be "preventing them from accessing life-saving care."

The family has said that Saunders, who is a prominent activist for Aboriginal women, was initially told that she didn't meet criteria for a transplant because she drank within the last six months before she fell ill.

A spokesperson for Trillium has confirmed the agency plans to launch a pilot project in August to suspend the six-month requirement and provide transplants to almost 100 patients with alcohol-related liver disease.

Transplant physicians have said there is a critical organ shortage and research has shown both that some alcoholics resume drinking after a transplant, leading to liver failure.

However, a lawyer who represents patients who have been denied liver transplants cited a University of Pittsburgh study that evaluated the prospects of alcoholics who received transplants. It found in the first five years their chances of survival were as good as patients suffering from non-alcoholic liver diseases, though lower in the longer term.

— By Michael Tutton in Halifax

More on Metronews.ca