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Silent killer: Doctors battling liver disease that threatens one-fifth of adults

MURRAY — For five years, Wayne Eskridge carried the same photo.

It wasn't a picture of a loved one. It was a picture of his liver.

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Back in 2010, a surgeon went in to remove Eskridge's gallbladder and came out with bad news: He was sure Eskridge had stage 4 liver disease.

This came as a shock. Eskridge, 73, didn't drink. He had no symptoms of liver disease. In fact, the semiretired Boise engineer had hardly ever been sick.

In the weeks and months to pass, doctors performed blood tests, genetic tests and two liver biopsies, which provided conflicting information. One suggested his liver was healthy. Another said his liver was severely scarred. The bloodwork indicated that nothing was wrong, but then a hematologist diagnosed him hemochromatosis — too much iron in his blood.

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How my skydiving mother gave me a new perspective on terminal illness

In 2014 I was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cirrhosis. I had no symptoms, felt pretty good for a 71 year old guy and I was optimistic about the future. I didn't drink, I'd never had hepatitis C. I was one of the growing number of Americans with NASH, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. The reasons for it are not fully understood, but there is no cure, short of a liver transplant.

My dad, who died a decade ago, had liver disease, so I knew that this is one nasty way to go. For the first time in my life, I fell into the ugly beast of depression. 

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A few months after my diagnosis, when my spirits had reached rock bottom, my 91-year-old mother asked me and my sister to go with her to see an oncologist.  She had been coughing a little and a scan showed a suspicious mass in her lung which had been biopsied. 

The doctor was calm and supportive as he explained stage 4 non-small cell carcinoma.  Sadly no, not operable. How long would she have? Hard to say. Probably not too long.  Chemo is really hard on older people, he told us.  Think about the quality of life.

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