Her only chance at life is a new liver, but her insurer said no. Then she wrote a powerful plea to the CEO

CNN | Wayne Drash

Portland, Oregon (CNN) — All Erika Zak wants to do is play with her daughter on the playground. Take her to the zoo. Walk her to school.

She's never been able to be the mother she longs to be.

At 38, Erika is dying.

Her battle to live began almost as soon as her daughter, Loïe, was born four years ago, when Erika was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer that had spread to her liver.

The cancer was removed from her colon and, her doctors say, she responded well to treatment. But a microwave ablation surgery last year to remove two tumors from her liver went terribly wrong, leaving a fist-sized hole in her liver and destroying her bile ducts.

Every day since has been a fight to survive. She's been hospitalized 19 times in Oregon over the last 12 months for infections, bleeding and an array of other health issues.

She has high blood pressure in her liver, which backs up the veins in her esophagus and can be catastrophic. Her surgical oncologist constantly worries she will fall ill with a bad infection and die.

"Every time she calls me and has a fever and some bleeding, we all hold our breath, worried: Will this be the time Erika bleeds to death?" says Dr. Skye Mayo, her surgical oncologist at Oregon Health & Science University.

"This is kind of the end game of what liver failure looks like." Continue reading