Alcoholic Liver Disease: One Man's Story

He Just Couldn't Stop, No Matter What

Alcoholic Liver Disease
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He knew the only way to save his life was to quit drinking, but he just couldn't stop, no matter how hard he tried.

His name was Bobby. He wasn't my best friend; he was more like everybody's best friend. Everybody enjoyed his company, his sense of humor and his incessant teasing. I don't remember anyone who disliked Bobby. He was one of those people that you immediately felt comfortable around.

Everybody Loved Bobby.

I don't ever remember seeing Bobby drunk, but I never saw him sober either. You may know what I mean: he could drink all day and you could never tell it by the way he looked, acted or talked. I suppose that was because he drank constantly. Nobody could tell the difference.

It was more likely due to the fact that he had built up such a tolerance to alcohol and it no longer had any outward effects on his behavior.

'Quit Are You Are Going to Die'

On the way to work in the mornings, he would pull into the backyard of one of his friends, pop the trunk, get his fifth of whiskey and take a long swig right out of the bottle. He'd get back into the car and drive off to work. Every morning.

That's when he was still able to work. When he began having health problems, the doctor immediately diagnosed him with cirrhosis of the liver, a type of alcoholic liver disease. They told him to quit drinking or he was going to die.

Jaundiced and Still Drinking

God knows he tried to quit. He tried to work the 12-step program again and again, and saw the inside of more than one alcohol treatment center. After 28 days of no alcohol, a balanced diet, and megadoses of vitamins, Bobby would feel a lot better. He'd celebrate by having a drink --the minute he was released.

Later came the medical hospitals. When jaundice set in he was forced into having a complete blood transfusion, which helped for a while. Six weeks later, Bobby would be back needing another transfusion.

He Swore He Was Not Drinking

After his second trip to the hospital and second transfusion, Bobby came to me looking for work. He'd been fired from every auto dealership and mobile home lot in town at least once and had few options. Since he swore to me he was not drinking - and because with his great personality he was a great salesman - I got him a position in our sales department. He seemed to be doing a lot better.

One morning a few weeks later I was at work before anyone else. I was upstairs in the break room fixing a pot of decaf and glanced out the window to see Bobby pull into the back alley parking area. He got out of the car, popped the trunk, got his bottle and turned it up.

Nothing had changed. He was just trying to hide it now, even from his oldest friends. It is painful to watch someone you care about continue to drink when they know it is killing them.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

The last time I saw Bobby he was in the hospital again. His skin was completely yellow and his eyes were sunken into his head. "Bobby, you need to hurry up and get out of this place, I want to go fishing!" I told my friend of more than 30 years. Then I placed my hand on his weary head and told him I loved him and God loved him too. I knew I was saying goodbye.

When I left the room I called all of his old friends: "If you want to see Bobby again, you better get on over to the hospital. Quickly." Most of them were able to get there in time.

They buried him four days later. He was in his mid-40s. Survivors included a four-year-old daughter.

Too Much Alcohol for Far Too Long

For Bobby, there was just too much alcohol for far too long for his liver to remain healthy. An estimated 25,000 people a year die as a result of alcoholic liver disease.

Alcohol abuse can cause a condition called "fatty liver" or another called "alcoholic hepatitis" -- both of which can be treated, but only if alcohol consumption is stopped. If drinking continues, these conditions will cause cirrhosis of the liver.

Hardening of the Liver

What happens is the liver begins to harden. Scar tissue develops in the body's largest internal organ which hinders its ability to filter blood. When the scar tissue develops to a certain point, the liver can no longer do its work.

The problem is the liver performs more than 1,500 functions for the body, including more than 300 that are believed to be life-saving procedures. If the liver stops doing its job, all kinds of health problems develop quickly and death can come rapidly.

Functions of a Healthy Liver

The liver detoxifies poisons, both those produced by the body and those from outside; filters bacteria from the blood; regulates fat metabolism; stores and manufactures vitamins; regulates and manufactures cholesterol and fats; synthesizes proteins; maintains the body's water and salt balance; secretes bile for the digestion of fat; stores energy (in the form of glycogen) helps regulate overall body metabolism; transforms the highly toxic ammonia (produced by exercise and by metabolism of proteins) into urea which is eliminated in the urine; manufactures lipoproteins for fat and cholesterol transport; and metabolizes alcohol.

If the liver stops doing any of these jobs, or numerous others it does constantly, the result can be fatal.

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