Erika Zak died during surgery on Friday. Zak, 39, inspired millions of people across the world through her battles for a liver transplant.
Per CNN, Zak died in surgery after a liver became available on Thursday. The mother of five-year-old Loie died during surgery.
The Zak family offered the following statement:
“Late yesterday the stars briefly aligned while we were at the hospital for an unrelated medical procedure and an organ miraculously became available right then for transplant. We were so excited and rushed our daughter in to spend a half hour with Erika. She then quickly went into the OR, but deep into the surgery, her body couldn’t handle some of the trauma apparently. She died in surgery. While our family is devastated by the loss of our beautiful wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend, we do want to express our deepest gratitude to all of those who have supported Erika and our family through these very difficult weeks, months and years. Through her perseverance in life, Erika embodied hope and set an example of strength.”
Zak leaves behind her daughter and her husband, Steve Powers. Here’s what you need to know:
1. A GoFundMe Has Been Created to Raise Money for Zak’s Daughter
In the wake of the tragic news, a GoFundMe was announced for the Erika Zak Memorial Fund. All funds will go towards her five-year-old daughter, Loie.
The summary for the page reads,
We can’t describe how very devastated we all are. This was her chance to have the normal life she wanted. This was her chance to be the mother she always wanted to be. But for some reason, it wasn’t in the cards.
Our hearts are so broken but we find peace that she left this world feeling hopeful and she is not in pain anymore.
The GoFundMe also requests that people sign up to be organ donors at OrganDonor.gov.
2. Zak’s Twin Sister, Jenna, Said Zak Was ‘Struggling Every Day’ in the Days Leading up to Her Surgery
Jenna Zak, Zak’s twin sister, shared some of Zak’s struggles on her own Instagram page, often lambasting the organ donor system in America. In an Instagram where she tagged UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, Zak showed a picture of her sister in the hospital. This was prior to the news that Zak would be getting transplant surgery.
@unosnews this is the photo I took of my sister after she almost bled to death due to her liver failure. Do you take this into account when your reviewers deny her points? Do you factor in she coughs up cups of blood because her liver is failing and is internally bleeding? This isn’t about being fair and following policy.
This is about a broken healthcare and donor system that has gone from bad to worse with your policy change that took her from the top of the list at her hospital to a MELD score that is lower than a year ago. We realize your policy change was meant for the greater good but it doesn’t take into account her unique situation, a hole the size of a fist in her liver and destroyed bile ducts caused from a surgery gone very wrong. We are asking for your reviewers to actually speak to her doctors to understand her situation so she will qualify for additional points. Her life is in your hands. Her case is unique and we won’t stop until you listen.
Zak’s battle against both United Health Care and UNOS was lengthy. First, she was denied coverage for a liver transplant by her health care company; after making an emotional appeal to them last year, she was finally approved.
Then, per The New York Times, Zak faced another uphill climb with UNOS, which is in charge of determining who is at the top of every organ donor list.
The circumstances around her liver surgery aren’t clear as of yet, in terms of how she was finally matched for her liver.
3. Zak’s Liver Troubles Began Following Her Battle With Stage IV Metastatic Cancer
Zak inspired millions across the world with her resiliency of spirit, in spite of shocking medical odds with both her cancer and her battle for a liver transplant.
According to KGW8, Zak was first told by doctors that there was nothing they could do about her cancer, according to sister Jenna. Jenna added, “She has fought for the last five years. When she first got diagnosed, the doctor told her that there was nothing that they could do, and our family didn’t want to take no for answer.”
At the time of her death, Zak had been waiting for a liver transplant for 15 months. Jenna added to the news station that her sister was living with excruciating pain every day; because of her medical condition, she wasn’t able to take pain medication.
According to CNN, Erika survived 70 rounds of chemotherapy over those five years, to treat her colorectal cancer.
4. Zak Told CNN, ‘There’s More That I Want to See’
In her final conversation with CNN, Zak talked about how she has processed her illness, and how she feels about the prospect of death. She said, heartbreakingly, “There’s more that I want to see; more life I want to live.” As for how she felt about death, she said, “I’m more scared of what I leave behind…I basically spend a lot of time daydreaming about what I would want to do with Loie and Scott if I was healthy and where I would want to go.”
Zak’s words are a rousing call to action for no one to ever take their life for granted. She went on, “When I say I daydream a lot, it’s like: ‘God I wish I never took a moment for granted. I wish I had done all the things I was always scared to do.'”
Zak also talked to the news network about the challenge of staying positive even when enduring unimaginable pain. She explained, “You can’t understand real suffering — even if you’re witnessing it — unless you’re going through it. You can describe it to your friends and family. They can watch it, but they obviously don’t know what’s happening to your morale, your body and everything else.”
Zak finished, “True suffering…it’s next level.”
5. Zak Met Powers in 1998 in Providence; They Were Married in 2009
Zak met her future husband, Powers, while they were both students in Rhode Island. She, at the Rhode Island School of Design, and he at Brown University.
They were married over ten years later, and had their daughter a few years after that. Snippets of Zak’s life can be seen through her sister’s Instagram: falling in love, having a baby, immediately beginning to battle cancer and all of the medical side effects that come with that exhaustive impact on her body.
In 2014, the twin sisters got matching tattoos. “We might be the most ‘untwinlike’ twins ever but least we agree on our tattoos,” Jenna wrote.
As for what the tattoos said?