Caitlin Balint, 38, has run competitively since college, when her autoimmune condition required her to switch from soccer to no-contact sports. She’s run the Boston Marathon and the New York City Half and won her local Turkey Trot two years in a row. Lately, however, her condition has made it difficult to stay active.
“I noticed that the fluid in my knees and legs restricted my range of motion. The diuretics that I took to control that fluid dried me out and affected my sodium levels. My disease progression and electrolyte imbalances led to bouts of extreme and debilitating cramping in my hands, legs, and feet,” she says. “These days, I have to content myself with exercise and workouts in place.”
Balint was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis at age 17 and with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare liver disease, four years ago. She also has cirrhosis of the liver, which strains the veins, arteries, and other organs throughout the body. She’s had to switch to cross-training in the pool and on the elliptical, as well at-home boot camp-style classes.
“I think most runners and athletes can understand the feeling of no longer being able to perform at their collegiate peak, but to be actively and measurably aware of your body breaking down takes it to another level,” she says.
Balint’s day job is as a nurse, though her condition has progressed to the point where she’s now on short-term disability. She has a daughter, Reagan, and a husband, who was tested to be a liver donor match for Balint but wasn’t approved.
“I’d love to be healthy and active again,” she says. “My husband and I have always enjoyed hiking and running together with our dogs. My daughter loves jumping over the streams and rocks and blazing new paths, but I just can’t keep up any more.”
For many years, Balint was constantly surprising doctors with her health despite her disease, which she credits to endurance training. “They expect me to present much worse, sometimes not even recognizing me as the patient.”
But there is no cure for either of Balint’s conditions, and she has reached the end stage of both. In order to survive, Balint needs a partial transplant from a living donor. The donor can be male or female, with type A or O blood, and between 21 and 55 years old. The approved donor will have all of their costs covered, and, according to the Yale New Haven Hospital, livers regenerate fully in eight weeks.
How to Become a Donor
Balint has started a Facebook page to raise awareness about her need for a donor. The best way to see if you’re a potential match is to call Yale New Haven Hospital at 866-925-3897 and mention Caitlin Balint’s name. The entire process, including education about what it means to be a living donor, is handled by the hospital. Donors remain entirely confidential.
“Statistically, 85% of donor applicants will be rejected,” Balint says. “About 60 applicants are needed to identify someone who is both a suitable match for me and a suitable donor.”