Chris’ story: “Liver disease was poisoning my system”

Chris liked salty food and regularly ate ready meals, not realising the irreparable damage they were doing to his liver. After a liver transplant Chris decided to lose weight and take more exercise and urges people to be very careful about their fat, salt and sugar intake. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Chris.

In early 2004 I thought I had the flu, I was hot one minute and cold the next. I left it for a couple of weeks and just took some paracetamol hoping to shake it off, but it didn’t go. I went to the GP on the Friday, but she couldn’t really do a lot in a five-minute emergency appointment. She said there were some nasty bugs going around, gave me an antibiotic, told me to take some paracetamol and see how things went

But in the early hours of Sunday morning I went to the toilet and there was bleeding. I rang the ambulance and asked for some advice, they told me to pack a bag because I was going into hospital. Over the five days I was in hospital I had various tests and they would wake me up quite often and quiz me about my drinking habits but I’ve never been a big drinker.

I had a gastroscopy, where a thin, tube-like instrument is passed down the mouth. It found the bleeding was coming from the oesophagus, so I had a banding procedure to make it stop. The doctors said I had fatty liver disease and the pressure of the liver not working had caused the varisces (bleeding). My details would be passed over to the transplant centre as a matter of course, even if it didn’t go any further. I was worried for my wife and my son, but having been a porter a hospital stay held no fear for me.

The hospital dietician recommended cutting down on the salt, for example, by not adding it to vegetables when cooking them. We tried it, but just started adding less – potatoes taste very bland without salt. My appetite was rubbish at the time anyway, I was feeling nauseous and everything tasted like cardboard so I was only having bread, butter and biscuits. I did manage to have some turkey at Easter, but had to leave the house when it was being cooked because I couldn’t cope with the smell of it.

I was also grumpy a lot of the time and would snap at my wife. I’m not normally an angry person, so I did a bit of research online and found out that it was because my liver wasn’t working properly – it was poisoning my system.

Over the next few months I was going back and forth to the hospital once a month for appointments and by April the consultant said the blood tests weren’t showing any signs of getting better so he got in touch with the transplant team. It was a bit of a surprise, but I just wanted to feel better.

After all sorts of tests I was put on the liver transplant list

I spent five days in hospital in Birmingham where they did all sorts of tests to make sure I could cope with a transplant, like an ECG and they flashed a light in my eyes to make sure I didn’t have epilepsy and things like that. I was put on the transplant list at the end of May.

I was told that the average wait was approximately two months and given instructions to keep my phone on. The doctors said the transplant wasn’t super urgent, but at the beginning of August I had a phone call to say they had a liver for me. It turned out to be a false alarm unfortunately, which they said is quite common and I was back home from Birmingham the following day. It was disappointing but the consultant explained that the donor liver was in a condition that could have got me in trouble.

At this point I was feeling better than I had been in January so I just got on with things. Then on the day of the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics the phone rang at about 8pm and it was the transplant coordinator. Her first words were “Are you well? No coughs or colds or anything?”

When I said no, she said they had a liver for me and I shouldn’t have anything to eat or drink after midnight. My father-in-law picked me up at about 10pm and we went up to Birmingham. I wasn’t sleeping once I was there and the nurses asked if I wanted anything, but I was fine reading my book and listening to music. I told them if it’s my last night on earth I’m not going to spend it sleeping.

I didn't have any pain after the transplant whatsoever. I was on a pump which was giving me regular doses of morphine

Then at about 7.30am on the Sunday I walked down to theatre and woke up again quite gently on the Monday morning in intensive care. I didn’t have any pain after the surgery whatsoever, I was on a pump which was giving me regular doses of morphine – that went on for a couple of days.

My appetite came back more or less immediately. I had chicken masala and cardamom rice for dessert while I was in hospital because I didn’t fancy boiled cod and it really hit the spot. The curry was tasty without being too overpowering for my system. It was amazing.

I was in hospital for ten days and discharged straight home – in some cases they discharge you to your local hospital. There was a classic car run a couple of days later and I had planned to go with my brother. I asked the doctor about it and he said “See how you feel”. On the day I felt ok and went on the whole journey with them – it felt really good.

I’d done quite a bit of walking before I became ill, but obviously that wasn’t enough so two months after the transplant I started going to the gym. I explained to the instructor what I’d had done and that I was trying to build myself up. Over the next few months I found I was able to do more – I bought a bicycle and used to cycle to the gym and do an hour or so workout and then cycle a bit more into town. I was generally working on building my strength up a bit. In October 2005 I took part in the Cardiff Half Marathon with my brother and we raised £1,700 for charity.

I’d been told to take a year off work to recover from the transplant and I started a new job as a school caretaker a week before the year was up. I feel great now and go back to the hospital once a year for a check-up. I even managed to lose some weight during lockdown.

The surgeons are amazing. I shook the consultant’s hand who carried out the transplant and am so grateful to everyone who got me to where I am today.

I would urge people to be very careful about their salt, fat and sugar intake. There’s a lot of hidden salt in food and I was told that the way my body processed sugar was a contributing factor to my liver disease. Everything in moderation.


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