Boomers, a Ride for At-Risk Livers

A silent epidemic has earned the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and a Baptist Health Medical Group gastroenterologist is raising awareness one pedal stroke at a time.

Sixty-two year-old Neal Rakov, M.D., of Mariners Hospital, leaves tomorrow on a 3,300-mile bicycle ride from San Diego to Tavernier in the Florida Keys to raise awareness and money for diagnosing and treating liver diseases, such as Hepatitis C, which the CDC warns affects 75 percent of the Baby Boomer generation.  Most of those infected, the CDC says, don’t know they are.

“It takes between 20 and 40 years to develop chronic liver disease originating with a Hepatitis C infection,” Dr. Rakov said.  “So while their livers are slowly being damaged by the virus, people are going on with their lives, until they develop end-stage liver disease.  Unfortunately, the treatment at that point is getting a liver transplant.”

He argues the liver is the most important organ in the body, because it makes the proteins our bodies need and clears away the toxins.

Yet, the liver often takes a backseat to the heart, lungs, brain and kidneys in terms of disease prevention and awareness, he says.  And, with a majority of his patients’ livers battling Hepatitis C, Dr. Rakov echoes the CDC’s urging for people born between 1945 and 1965 to get screened for the potentially life-threatening virus.  With early diagnosis, the Hepatitis C virus can be eliminated with medication before irreversible damage is done.

The American College of Gastroenterology reports that to diagnose Hepatitis C, a blood test to detect the presence of the virus’ antibodies is performed.  If the test is negative, this means the person hasn’t been exposed to the virus within the last four to 10 weeks.  If the test is positive for antibodies, the presence of the virus still in the body must be confirmed with another test because someone who was exposed may no longer have the virus that eventually leads to liver damage.

“Baby boomers are at greater risk for Hepatitis C due to the lack of widespread screening of the blood supply and blood products prior to the early 1990s and to the popularity of recreational drug use through injections in the 1960s and 1970s,” Dr. Rakov said.

His goal with the cross-country bicycle trip is to raise awareness about the risks of Hepatitis C and how alcohol damages the liver as well.  He plans to raise $50,000, which he hopes will cement Mariners Hospital’s ability to begin the evaluation process for people needing liver transplants, who now must drive north to Miami to get the proper tests.

“If I can help one person live a longer, fuller life as a result of this ride, it will be worth every pedal stroke,” he said.

To follow Dr. Rakov’s progress or to make a donation, visit Hospital.  He’s expected to return to Mariners around April 20.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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