Photo: H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media
NEW FAIRFIELD — Local nurse Caitlin Balint is a mother, a wife, a competitive runner and a registered nurse practitioner.
In order to continue to be all those things, she’s reaching out to the community for a big favor — a portion of someone’s liver.
Balint, who, has a 6-year-old daughter named Reagan with her husband Dave, was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis when she was 17 years old. This is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its liver cells. A living donor would provide her the best chances of survival from the chronic and life-threatening condition, she said.
“No one knows what causes it,” said Balint, 38, who grew up in Bozrah.
While the liver does heal itself, once it gets cirrhosis — which Balint has — the scar tissue can’t be healed, she said. To control her condition, she takes prednisone and immunosuppressive drugs daily.
About four years ago, she was also diagnosed with another condition called primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare liver disease that damages the bile ducts inside and outside the liver.
Balint has reached the end stage of both conditions, which have no cure.
“Having a liver disease is like going on a roller coaster ride,” Balint said. “I used to be on top of the roller coaster but I have now been more and more on the bottom.”
For more information on being a liver donor to Balint, visit Cait needs a liver on Facebook.
Prior to the last few months, Balint said she has never had serious symptoms from her condition.
“I would always have little flares, peaking and then going to normal,” she said.
During the peaks, she was able to lead a relatively normal life.
Balint said she was a soccer player in high school, but due to her enlarged spleen from her liver condition, her doctor told her no more contact sports.
At Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, she took up running and ran cross country her junior year.
“I was number one on my team, number two in the Northeast Conference and 54th in the nation for Division 2 cross country,” she said.
She has since run half a dozen half marathons, and won and placed at several smaller races. She also ran the Boston Marathon in 2005, raising funds to support the American Liver Foundation.
Years later and throughout her entire pregnancy with Reagan, she ran in the pool at the Greenwich YMCA at 5 or 6 a.m in the morning before work.
Despite some health complications following the birth of Reagan, Balint resumed pool running upon her recovery and joined a local running group — The Ridgefield Running Company.
Four years ago, she ran the New York City Half Marathon.
“I won’t let the disease control me,” Balint said. “I never let it stop me.”
More recently, though, she said her doctors have become concerned about the increased fluid in her legs and the severe muscle cramping in her quads, calves, hands and feet.
“Overall, compared to what I used to be, I’m not nearly as active,” Balint said. “I’m tired more and the fluid in my legs has become uncomfortable.”
Balint had been a nurse at Danbury Hospital since 2014, working in interventional radiology, where she gives sedation to patients who are getting medical procedures. This spring, she completed her studies at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, and became a nurse practitioner.
“I was looking for a new job and but I had to stop my search,” she said. “My doctors said they wanted to move forward with the liver transplant.”
Balint’s husband was tested to be a donor but was rejected, due to the size of one of the portions of his liver.
Due to her current health issues, Balint is currently on short-term disability. The coronavirus pandemic has only complicated things as she’s on the CDC’s high risk list in two separate categories — for the immuno-suppressive drugs she’s taking and for her liver disease.
Balint is working with the Yale New Haven Hospital Transplant Center and looking for a living donor that either has A or O blood and is between 21 and 55 years old. Donors can be either male or female.
Livers can regenerate completely in six weeks, and there are no out-of-pocket medical expenses to the donor.
Currently, Balint is in the process of setting up a fundraiser with a nonprofit organization.
“We would raise money for the donor to help pay for lost wages or travel,” she said. “If there is anything leftover, it would help with our costs.”
Dave Balint said he “can’t stress enough how much we appreciate just knowing people are willing to help us. It is truly heartwarming and hopefully the beginning of an inspirational turnaround for this challenging year.”
Balint said if she gets a donor and is healthy again, she would be able to go hiking to national parks, boating on Candlewood Lake, and watch her daughter take horseback lessons and do Taekwondo.
“I would also like to take Reagan to Disney World, but I can’t do any of that right now with the fluid in my legs,” she said. “I’d like to get back to my physical well being, run and enjoy life the way I did.”