Life after Liver Transplant Surgery and A Diabetes Diagnosis
Staying positive when you’re affected by a serious illness isn’t easy. But Tony West, 52, does just that. Tony was diagnosed with a rare liver disease in 1988 which led to a liver transplant. Then, in 1992, he found out that he also had Type 1 diabetes. Read his story below.
Living with Autoimmune Hepatitis
Tony’s life took a dramatic turn after returning from a holiday in the Far East.
“I was jaundiced and feeling very unwell, so the doctors knew roughly what the problem was. However, it took them a while to establish what type of Hepatitis it was as there are five strains and my symptoms didn’t fit any of them neatly. After a few tests and medical history check, they diagnosed it as Chronic Autoimmune Hepatitis (AIH) which is a fairly uncommon form.
“Doctors don’t know for certain what causes AIH, but they believe it’s due to white blood cells attacking the liver cells. My symptoms included feeling tired all the time, losing weight and feeling sick after eating anything, but you can also get joint pain, abdominal pain and unusual blood vessels showing up around your body.”
A Risky Operation
There is currently no cure for AIH, but treatment can be helpful in controlling the condition and symptoms. Immunosuppression therapy uses steroids to suppress the immune system and prevent it attacking your liver. If medication doesn’t work or if your liver is very badly damaged, a liver transplant is sometimes the only option. This is exactly what happened to Tony.
“The liver transplant was very risky for me due to certain complications. Before the surgery they found a clot in my portal vein (the main vein going to the liver) but it had calcified and was hard like bone. The danger was that if the vein collapsed whilst the new liver was being connected, they wouldn’t be able to stop the bleeding and I would bleed to death. There was a 25% chance of this happening and there was only one surgeon who was prepared to try, as the others believed it was too dangerous.”
The surgery took almost 12 hours and Tony was in intensive care for about 1 ½ days afterwards, but it was a resounding success.
Life After Liver Transplant Surgery
The liver transplant completely changed Tony’s life. And despite having to make some lifestyle changes and be on medication, he is very positive about the outcome.
“My life has definitely changed for the better since having the transplant! I have more energy and can do everyday tasks by myself, whereas before I needed help to complete them. I’m still recovering from the operation – it could take up to 18 months before I’m fully fit – so some tasks might take me long to do then healthier people.”
So what changes did Tony have to make after the operation?
“The main lifestyle change I had to make was to avoid alcohol. I had to be really careful when buying items in the shops to check they didn’t have any alcohol in them, and other people had to be aware not to cook with it if we visited them. Since the operation, I have to be more aware of possible issues and side effects that might indicate there are problems with the new liver or signs of rejection. The hospital tell you on discharge what to look for and I have to ensure that I take all my medication as prescribed.”
Advice for Fellow Sufferers
Tony has lots of advice for fellow sufferers of AIH and other liver conditions.
“Since my transplant I’ve talked to lots of people about how important it is to register as organ donors to help others in similar situations. Advice I’d give to anyone newly diagnosed is to speak to the British Liver UK people. There’s lots of downloadable information on their website which will help you to understand more about liver disease and what happens if you need a transplant.
“Also, understand that the worst part is waiting for the phone call from the transplant centre to say that they have an organ available for you – you’re on edge every time the phone rings. For me the surgery was very risky, but I came through, followed everything I was told to do by the hospital and was discharged 13 days afterwards.”
“After surgery, your doctor will recommend you stop drinking and smoking, avoid driving for the first few months and once recovered enough, reintroduce gentle exercise.”
Tony is also keen to stress the importance of a healthy diet and recommends one vegetable in particular – the humble artichoke.
“They’re high in silymarin and cynarin which help to speed up liver cell regeneration, plus protect these cells against damage from outside pollutants and toxins,” he says. “They’re a natural diuretic and choleretic, stimulating bile production, improving gallbladder function and aiding the efficient breakdown of foods for improved digestion.”
Living with Type 1 Diabetes
Having diabetes can be tough, but in comparison to his liver condition, Tony’s found it relatively simple to handle. In fact, it’s actually improved since his transplant.
“I was constantly tired, drinking pints of water which never seemed to quench my thirst and was always going to the toilet. I went to the doctor who did a finger prick test and found that my blood sugar was in the low 30s. They diagnosed Type 1 diabetes and I was sent to hospital straight away, where I was treated with insulin injections.
“Learning to manage it has taken some time and practice, but I now have it sussed. I take two types of insulin and have five injections a day to keep it under control. I manage it in a similar way that I do my liver transplant – making sure that I look after myself, don’t smoke or drink, eat healthily and do regular exercise to improve my overall physical health.
“Doctors need to be aware that any medication given to me for my liver might interfere with my diabetes. In fact, my diabetic control has improved greatly since the transplant and my overall blood sugar levels are better than ever.”
Jewellery To Warn Others
Tony has been a regular ID Band Company customer since his diabetes diagnosis in 1992.
“I found The ID Band Company online after searching for medical jewellery as I was concerned that if I had an accident, no-one would know about my medical issues and the medication that I was on. I thought it was especially important as I had several medical conditions that were life threatening and needed special treatment in the event of an issue.
“The company’s large range of items and great customer feedback were the main reasons for buying from them in particular.
“In the past I had a Medic Alert necklace from them and I recently bought a two tone metal bracelet. I purchased that specific one as I could put my medical information on it as well as a telephone number, which a first aider can ring to find out exactly what medication I’m on. This is extremely important to me as my medicine varies and I found that other products didn’t allow me to reflect the changes – the ID Band product allows me to logon to a website and amend the list of medication as and when it changes.”
When asked if he’d recommend The ID Band Company to other people, Tony was very enthusiastic.
“Definitely yes – I’ve had superb products at great value and received five star customer service every time.”