Michael went to his GP in 2011 feeling unwell. When he was informed that he had alcohol related liver disease Michael stopped drinking immediately. However, the damage to his liver had already been done. Michael’s liver was failing to work properly and shortly afterwards he started having to undergo regular drainage of his ascites.
When patients suffer from alcohol-related liver disease or cirrhosis, the liver and kidneys stop working properly and fluid stops being exchanged within the cells in the way it should. This leads to ascites – an excess of fluid, which gathers in the abdomen.
As there is no way for this fluid to be removed from the body naturally, up to 15 litres of it can gather around the abdominal organs. Ascites can make patients look pregnant; it can be painful and can take away the appetite, making patients weak and leading to malnutrition. These patients may have to make weekly or monthly trips to the hospital in order to have the fluid drained from their abdomen.
Michael admits he had always been a big drinker. “I drank after work with colleagues and have always liked a drink. I started drinking more when I got divorced and then even more when I was made redundant.”
Despite giving up alcohol altogether, “I had a huge belly and tiny arms and legs - I wasn’t eating and I was tired all of the time”, explained Michael. “I had to go to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth to have the fluid drained – sometimes I had 14 litres of fluid in my belly.”
“I was referred to the Royal Free in 2012 for a liver transplant because my ascites wasn’t being controlled. Then the doctors there said I might be eligible to be part in a new trial, which would mean I may not need a transplant if things got better.”
Currently undergoing clinical trials at London’s Royal Free Hospital, the alfapump can provide a simple and effective solution to ascites.
Michael was the first patient to receive an alfapump as part of the Royal Free clinical trial and he started to feel the benefit of the continual removal of his ascites pretty quickly. He explains, “Once the alfapump was switched on it started to drain the fluid away. It was set to a certain level, I think it was a litre per day to start with and things got better pretty quickly.”
“It gave me a new lease of life. Before, I was struggling with lack of breath, lack of appetite, not really wanting to do anything and I was sleeping a lot. The pump removed fluid that was surrounding my lungs and other organs and it has been amazing, really.”
Michael now has normal blood tests and his liver scans are stable. In January this year his alfapump was removed, thanks to giving up alcohol; something that was made much easier without the effects of refractory ascites. Now “I can really be involved in my sons lives” said Michael. “I can be an active father to them, which I couldn’t have been before. I have really been able to kick the drink and I don’t think about drinking any more. I’m so pleased with how things have gone.”
 About the alfapump
The alfapump, produced by Sequana Medical, is a small 7 x 4cm-long subcutaneous (under the skin) device. Smaller than an iPod, it works by pumping fluid from the abdomen into the bladder, where it is removed from the body naturally through urination. Patients use a special device to recharge the battery, which needs to be run for about 15 minutes daily and the pump is switched off at night.
The alfapump removes around 10-15ml of fluid from the abdomen every 15 minutes and can remove up to 4 litres of fluid every day if needed.
For more information on the alfapump, go to the website at: www.alfapump.com