The Gulf Coast Liver Support Group, affiliated with the University of South Alabama’s Digestive Health Center, recently celebrated 13 years of providing education and support to patients living with liver disease.
Dr. Jorge Herrera, professor of internal medicine at USA, formed the support group in 1998 in an effort to provide accurate, up-to-date information to patients as well as to establish a forum for peer support.
According to Dr. Herrera, liver disease is prevalent in the United States. Because liver disease often remains without symptoms for years, most do not know they have a liver problem until it is too late.
“Our support group seeks to increase awareness among the general public about the risk factors for liver disease in the hopes that early identification and lifestyle modifications can prevent or ameliorate liver damage,” Dr. Herrera said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there about liver diseases and its treatment. Our group serves as a source of reliable information for patients who want to learn more about liver diseases and liver health.”
Dr. Herrera, along with Betty Sims, coordinates the group’s meetings and activities.
Sims had a liver transplant in March 1995. “When the group was formed three years later, I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to learn more about my condition,” she said. “I’ve been involved ever since.”
The support group, which meets once every other month, provides a forum for adult patients with liver disease to learn more about their condition. The educational programs cover medical, social and nutritional topics. “We ask the members what they would like to hear,” Sims said. “In general, we talk about what disease can do to the liver, as well as the treatment options available.”
Sims said it is important to raise awareness for liver diseases. “When I was first diagnosed, I was really ignorant to what was going on,” she said. “This group helps people become aware of what they are facing, and it gives them the opportunity to learn from people who have been through it. It’s really a huge encouragement.”
The Gulf Coast Liver Support Group is the only physician-led liver support group in the region and state. One of the primary diagnoses of patients in the group is viral hepatitis.
The group meets every other month at the Infirmary West Hospital Conference Center. Activities are also planned for the months when a meeting is not held.
“On the month we don’t have a meeting, we go out to eat as a group,” Sims said. “It’s a great way to stay connected with people and to continue to share experiences with each other.”
Support group members are notified about new developments in liver health through frequent updates using Facebook. The support group’s website provides patient education information, as well as access to the group’s bimonthly newsletter and information about upcoming meetings and activities.
The next meeting for the Gulf Coast Liver Support Group is scheduled for March 17, 2011, at 7 p.m. Participation in the support group is free of charge. For more information, call (251) 660-5555 or visit www.gulfcoastliversupport.com. You can also follow the support group on Facebook by searching “Gulf Coast Liver Support Group.”