HOUSTON - A NASCAR driver has a need for speed, not only on the racetrack but also with his mission to raise awareness about liver disease. Will Rodgers survived it as a young child and now wants to make sure you know about the warning signs.
He certainly gets an adrenaline rush while racing. He also gets a thrill out of trying to save lives by sharing his own experience with liver disease.
"I was three years old, and I was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis or PSC for short. It's an autoimmune disease of the liver. Unfortunately, it's not very treatable. There's no cure for it at this time, but I was very lucky to have parents who were very aware of my condition. Being a three-and-a-half-year-old, I was supposed to be jumping off the walls and having a great time and living life, but during that time, I became lethargic," explains Will. He also became jaundice and had a swollen stomach.
Will's parents didn't know if he would survive, since there wasn't a cure, but he went into remission after a few years of treatment. He's using that as his second lease on life to make sure others know the symptoms, so they can also get an early diagnosis. While his form was rare, he's concentrating on one of the most prevalent types of liver disease, which is Hepatitis C.
"Be very aware of your health at the moment and what your future health could be, and that means that you should be tested for hepatitis C specifically. It doesn't discriminate against anyone, no matter what your age, where you come from, what your background is, you could, unfortunately, as a human being be prone to it, so it's really important to be tested from the age of 18 and at least one time in your lifetime, if not several times," says Will.
Will teamed-up with OraSure Technologies and started his own foundation to make sure those tests are available and free at select NASCAR events.
"And then, just be educated! A big part of what we're doing is breaking down negative stigma, and a lot of that stems from not having the proper education or misunderstanding what hepatitis is. So, be educated about resources that are out there that are available for you, via some of our partners like OraSure Technologies or my foundation. They're out there for you! That is what we want to do - we want to help make a change for the better of the community," says Will.
Signs of liver disease can include similar ones to what Will experienced, everything from fever and fatigue to abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and yellow skin. While he'll stay aware of those red flags on the track, he'll continue to raise his own red flags for YOU to look out for, when it comes to liver disease. He loves both jobs.
"It's cool, it's really cool, and hopefully it'll become cooler over time, as we build this campaign Race to End Hep C, and then start to represent other liver health causes as well, allowing me to race full-time, but my job's pretty darn neat. I've been racing for a long time and now graduating to this NASCAR level, it's pretty intense," smiles Will.
Will is still considered to be in remission of his disease and eats and drinks a clean diet, plus makes sure he gets in plenty of exercise.
Here is a more comprehensive list of possible warning signs of liver disease: fever, fatigue, dark urine, clay-colored stool, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, and jaundice (yellow skin).