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Mom Whose Quest For A New Liver Inspired The Nation Dies At 39

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Who Is Erika Zak? New Details On Death Of Woman Who's Quest For A New Liver Inspired The Nation

When a person is fighting a serious cancer diagnosis, the last thing they should have to worry about is whether or not they will be able to get the treatment that they need in order to survive. Ideally, they can focus all their thoughts on getting better. Who is Erika Zak? She is a woman who had a dramatic decision to live her battle with cancer out loud. It started off as a way to get the insurance company's notice, but it grew into something else. Sadly, Erika lost her fight with cancer last week. Here's more about Erika and the difference she made in lives everywhere. 

1. Erika's Last Day 

On August 23rd, 2019, the world lost a real warrior. Her name was Erika Zak, and though she wasn't the star of a major motion picture franchise nor was she the singer behind dozens of pop hits, people knew her, and people mourn her loss. For more than five years, Erika, a mom from Portland, Oregon, went up against a villain that few of us would be able to challenge with such aplomb: she battled cancer. Tragically, she lost that battle in the middle of transplant surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio when she was just 39-years-old, leaving behind, among others, her husband, Scott Powers. 

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2. Issues With Transplants

Erika's battle was not a private one and it certainly wasn't an easy one. You see, a liver transplant was going to be necessary to keep her alive, but the insurance companies and the medical establishment seemed insistent on making Erika's already painful path, an even more challenging one. When her situation became more dire, she reached out to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) in the hopes that they could elevate her name on the list by making her an emergency listing. They refused. A liver came, but sadly, in the middle of the transplant surgery, Erika died. 

3. ONUS and UHC 

There was hope before there was grief. After the long battle with bonus ONUS and United Healthcare, a donor was found. “Late yesterday the stars briefly aligned while we were at the hospital for an unrelated medical procedure and an organ miraculously became available right then for transplant. We were so excited and rushed our daughter to spend a half-hour with Erika,” her grief-stricken family revealed in a statement they gave to CNN. "She then quickly went into the OR, but deep into the surgery, her body couldn’t handle some of the trauma apparently. She died in surgery.”

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4. The Long List 

Eriks was on the list waiting for the liver that could've saved her life for a total of 15 months. Erika was first diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer which had already spread to her liver just after she gave birth to her daughter, Loïe. No one who looks at her brave battle against liver cancer could argue with the fact that she went out fighting. When it became clear that the medical resources available to her and her family weren't doing what they were designed to do (treat her illness and defray serious costs) she made her story public.

5. Going Public With It 

One of the ways that she did this was by sharing her battle with her healthcare provider, United Health Care. When they refused to cover her transplant, she wrote David Wichmann, the group's CEO a letter reading him the riot act. It got the job done and eventually, she was approved for the transplant, even though UNOS refused to indicate that her transplant was a matter of life or death. In a culture where Americans are more attuned than ever before, she shone a light on just how truly broken our system is even when it comes to issues like an organ transplant

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6. Her Family's Wishes

Though Erika's battle did not end in the kind of victory those closest to her hoped for, it was a victory in its own right. Erika found peace, and more people were forced to confront the problems within our healthcare system. “While our family is devastated by the loss of our beautiful wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend, we do want to express our deepest gratitude to all of those who have supported Erika and our family through these very difficult weeks, months and years. Through her perseverance in life, Erika embodied hope and set an example of strength," said a statement released by the family. 

Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cats, Batman and Margot. She's an experienced generalist with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, pop culture, and true crime.