At 30, Cirrhosis Brought Me to the Brink of Death. How I Fought My Way Back to Health

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I am an alcoholic, and would first like to confirm to all reading this that people like me suffer from a very misunderstood disease. I have had a very blessed life, but I found comfort and release from even trivial problems by self-medicating with alcohol. Alcoholics come from all religions, cultures and tax brackets, and perhaps the most common ailment resulting from alcohol abuse is Cirrhosis.

 

My Cirrhosis Diagnosis:

When I tell people that I was diagnosed with advanced-stage Cirrhosis at 30 years old, they exhibit one of two reactions: the first being shock and disbelief followed by the question ‘how?’ The second response is to ask what exactly is Cirrhosis.

 

Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring of the liver caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and, in my case, chronic alcohol abuse. The overall composite score the health of your liver is called the ‘MELD’ score. It is a combination of over 25 factors from the ability to balance minerals such as potassium, sodium and iron naturally to the the number of white to red blood cells to the presence of ammonia in your system. A healthy adult generally has a MELD score around 6. At my worst, I had a score of 41. This score was given while I was in a medically induced coma in the hospital. This was not from alcohol poisoning. I actually hadn’t had a drink in a month. It was due to a spike in ammonia which causes brain function to almost cease. After ten days of tubes running through me filtering every drop of liquid in my body, I was released from the hospital.

 

From Fine Dining to Hospitalization:

I studied hospitality management at the University of North Texas and was employed for years as a Sommelier (wine professional) in fine dining environments. I over-immersed myself in my work and became obsessed with alcohol in all its forms. I had access to the the rarest of the rare wines, spirits and other potables from the world over.

 

I dismissed symptoms such as loss of appetite, insomnia and irritability, thinking they were a side effect of the stress of the job. I began to wake up nauseous and sometimes in a cold sweat. Within a month, I found myself shaking while carrying a tray of drinks to a table. I nearly dropped the tray of $14 martinis in the middle of the restaurant on a busy Saturday night. I eagerly awaited finishing my checkouts and closing responsibilities each night so I could race to the bar before last call. I’d order a double shot of whisky and follow it with the most potent beer I could find. Only at that point did I start to feel comfortable.

 

Eventually, a shot before work became a necessity to quell the tremors caused by the hypertension of withdraws. I became less concerned about quality, and more with quantity. I carried enough breath mints to fill my front pocket. I was always well liked and many times my managers showed me mercy over and over until they finally had no choice but to let me go.

 

Nothing had changed regarding my habits. I would have a two-shot flask on me in case a shift ran long. It wasn’t to catch a buzz. At this point, it was to not shake or have a panic attack. I once had a seizure in the middle of a very busy shift because I opted to not drink that morning. In the weeks following, I couldn’t sleep, was lucky if I had the appetite to eat once a day and my usual loving, playful spirit was dulled to a quiet, terrified persona.

 

Intervention:

One night, while cooking dinner with my roommate and another friend, I heard a knock at the door. In walked my friends from my hometown, Denton, TX. My best friend said, ‘Ian, man, you look like shit. Your roommate is worried and I see why just looking at you. You’ve been saying you want to go spend some time in Louisiana with your mom, so here’s a ticket for tomorrow. She’s got a room made up. Don’t worry about the money. I talked to your dad and brother and they’ll be by to pack your stuff up and store it back in Denton. Pack a bag and let’s roll man or stay here if you want. We will love you either way but your light isn’t shining! Quit the job. You’ve always been one of the best, and that sort of talent is something you will always have.” I packed a bag and left within a half an hour.

 

During Detox I went into a COMA:

I detoxed for two weeks and was feeling semi-normal for another week or so when I got dizzy in the car one day. I forgot where I was. Everything was foggy like a dream. Three days later I awoke from a coma to sets of shocked eyes. I was not expected to come out of it. They asked my mom if she wanted me resuscitated if I flatlined. There was a lot of head shaking and ‘don’t get your hopes up’ stares.

 

I went back in and out of the coma a few times, and two months later my blood had been drained and refilled twice. I had become well known in the hospital. I would walk in for an appointment and would get a ‘Hi, Ian’ from nurses and doctors I couldn’t recall meeting, I was so out of it at the time of introduction.

 

Six months later, Food & Prayer had played their part:

Upon my last visit to my doctor, six months after the whole ordeal began, my MELD score was down to 12. I was considered well enough that I was no longer eligible for the national transplant list, which is a very good thing.

 

Two things led me to this point. First of these was God’s grace and endless prayer. Beyond that, it was my appropriate use of foods. I feel strongly that anyone with the will to press forward can begin to heal themselves through a very simple diet. Through abstaining from alcohol and starting a liver detoxing diet, I am perhaps more fit than most of my old friends.

 

I have found my knowledge of food and the culinary arts more useful than ever. Today I am about to publish a book on the renal diet with contributions from RNs, RDs and chefs and line cooks from 4-star restaurants from NYC to NOLA.

 

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Read more from Ian: 

3 Day Meal Plan: My Cirrhosis (Liver Disease) Healing Diet

A Cirrhosis Survivor’s Guide: 9 Diet Tips for Healing My Liver

Turmeric Spiced Chickpea and Artichoke Saute 

Easy Cucumber Apple Sorbet

Easy Savory Italian Quinoa Bites

 

If you are struggling, remember that none of us are perfect. I truly hope that sharing some of the darkest parts of me may be an inspiration for those who suspect they may have an addiction and to those that do not, take care of yourself always. Anyone can get blindsided, and so few come back from such a hard fall as mine.

 

Want to learn more about how to beat cirrhosis and fatty liver? Read Dr. Hyman’s Eat Fat, Get Thin Cookbook

 

 

Note: PLEASE consult with  your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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26 thoughts on “At 30, Cirrhosis Brought Me to the Brink of Death. How I Fought My Way Back to Health

  1. Jacob

    I was diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis just shy of my 32nd birthday. I was then treated as a dead man walking by the majority of the medical community I encountered. I wasn’t having it. I became very pro-active in leading a healthy lifestyle and also researching the biological processes involved in the disease. I am about to turn 33 and my last ultrasound results came back completely normal. I am really grateful to have had an educational background to research on my own and also a strong support group around me during this time. That being said I really hope others facing this dire situation can start seeing stories like these and can attain some hope. I can also run laps around most people my age now so I would also recommend people who aren’t facing this disease to possibly rethink lifestyle choices.

    Reply
  2. Melissa

    My 34 year old nephew Brandon passed away from Cirrhosis and renal failure on 12/23/17. He was in ICU for three months after a stroke and infection in his brain. Such a tragic way to die! He could not stop drinking! Alcohol addiction and abuse is a serious health problem! For those that still suffer, please get help before the damage is irreversible.

    Reply
  3. Joseph

    My dad has been diagnosed with liver diseases about 2 weeks ago and he has recently been released from the hospital, I find this website and personal experiences very helpful! will follow it closely

    Reply
  4. Melissa

    Thank you so much for sharing your story; it’s truly amazing what the body can do when it’s given what it needs to function properly. I have a rare liver disease called Budd-Chiari Syndrome, and when I was 19, I went into liver failure with all the horrid symptoms, seemingly overnight. One day I was a healthy vibrant professional dancer, and within the course of a week, I developed severe ascites, abdominal pain, and other terribly unpleasant symptoms. After a month in the hospital, I was informed that I would likely need a transplant ASAP. Going through the beginning of the transplant process was awful, and I decided I was not going to do it, no matter what., I would find another way. Luckily I grew up in a household that was all organic, sugar free, unprocessed, ect..so I delved immediately into ways to naturally heal my liver. Luckily, it is the only organ that can heal itself, so there is always hope. Your approach to diet is similar to what I’ve adopted, and it’s likely the reason I’m still here. Now, 10 years later, been and I’ve done almost shockingly well overall for someone with my disease. It’s not easy, and I still have set backs, but my liver is luckily free from cirosis after all this time, and liver enzymes stay in normal range 95% of the time. Wanted to add a few things that worked for me, and hopefully can help someone else.
    Healthy fats (flax, oil, avocado, mct, or good fish oil supplements) are really helpful to heal inflammation and stimulate proper bile elimination. In the morning, I make a tea of mint leaves, lemon, ginger and pepper, followed by a cup of hot water with Licorice, fennel, dandelion root, milk thistle triphala, and nettle. Licorice, milk thistle, and dandy help eliminate excess mucus, stimulate bile healthy bile production, and have a generally cleansing, calming effect on the liver. Triphala is amazing; it helps the elimination process, which is essential for the liver function. It’s especially helpful for those suffering with some degree of confusion or brain fog; a high dosage is of triphala has helped me tremendously as I’ve begun to have rather severe episodes of Hepatic Encephalopathy. Quality pro-biotics, a smoothie or juice with beets, oranges, ginger, spirulina (protein), chlorella powder, l-glutathione, glutamine, and vit c (powder form), meat from aloe leaf, and ACV and or lemon/lime. Quality probiotics, b-vitamins (thiamine in particular, which you can ask your doctor to prescribe for proper dose), and fermented foods are great. I know the above is complicated and a bit time consuming, so having tried anything and everything, here are the most effective treatments that are the cornerstone of my self-care regime:
    1. Colonics and coffee enemas!! It’s gross, it’s annoying, it is uncomfortable, but its sooo worth it.
    2. Supplements/herbs:: stick to liquid or powder varieties (easier to digest and assimilate). Keep your supplement routine simple, and avoid multi-v’s with too many ingredients; you never know how these things individually and especially in combination, even natural “healthy” additives, will affect your liver. Stick with small dosages and increase slowly.
    2. Breathwork and meditation. Breath of fire, bastrika, and gentle diaghragm oscillations done on a strong exhale. Not only do these exercises help tone your abs and give you a bit of a cardio workout without putting too much pressure on your liver; they also really help regulate stress levels and stimulate detox of mucus, regular bowel movements, and release anger. In chinese medicine, the liver is associated with anger. Whether you believe in that or not, negative emotions are clinically proven to hamper the cellular repair process. Finding and using a healthy coping skill is one fo the best things to do to improve well-being.
    3. Accupuncture and Reflexology. If acupuncture isn’t for you, or you have yet to find a good practitioner, try reflexology on your foot at home. You can find on google what areas assist with liver/kidney/digestion, get a tennis ball and roll away the tension. It’s pretty amazing how quickly you will actually feel better after a few minutes.
    4. Try to avoid cooking with oils over high heat and banish all dairy, sugr, commercial bread/cereal/pasta, vegetable oil and “normal” butter. Ghee, avo oil, coconut oil, sesame, olive…there are so many better options out there, and its worth it to invest a few extra dollars and get the highest quality I generally steam all my veggies with garlic and onion cloves, leaving them a bit al dente to preserve optimal nutritional content. Add oil only and seasoning only after removing food from heat. Use a few basic herbs (perferablly organic) to season, (garlic, black pepper, cumin, saffron, lemon, paprika, mustard seed, parsley) and get rid of packaged seasoning mixes, packaged sauces, and dressings. Miso has an amazing flavor if used sparingly that works when you want an extra punch. Fresh cilantro tea or homemade vegetable broth with lots of cilantro are amazing for the liver.
    5. Do your research and read ingredients before eating anything. Everyone’s body is different; getting to know your body and what it needs isn’t an easy process. But if you start with a simple diet removed of processed foods and excess herbs/sauces/flavoring (sticking to a few basic herbs), it becomes easier to listen to what your body is teling you it needs. Educating yourself about the liver, and following your intuition (and doctors advice) will really help guide you towards what natural practices/exercises, ect would work best for you.
    6. Patience and keep trying. Keeping a journal about what you do and consume, and how you feel really helps you create your optimal healing program . Try to stay positive and look at it as an experiment.
    7. 24 hr Juice, Vegetable broth, herbal tea, and lemon water fast once a week.
    8. Don’t give up!!
    Thanks so much for bringing up this important topic and wish you the best on your journey .

    Reply
  5. Glynis Cauley

    hi Ian
    my name is glynis I’m 34 I have the advance stage too, mine was from drinking ,tho I drank because I was in domestic violent relationship so I turnt to drinking,, I have experienced all the stages and I’m still fighting it even tho I have not drank in 2 years – ive always eaten healthy- I took to natural herbs too in which I believe is saving my life then the medication, I was given 6 months to live, tho I’m still here just. ive fought this illness on my own , had no one see me in hospital at all, I was known to my hospital too lol. now I’m concern about my memory , my concentration is bad, how did it feel before you went in coma? I am 13 on score,

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Thank you ian, i have a beautiful family and have finally realized i need to quit , i started feeling really sick pain on my right side i quit drinking and have started a liver detox diet and vitamens,i hope i can heal it to live a longer life ,

    Reply
  7. Amy Walker

    My story is similar. Esophageal varices ruptured, almost bled to death, coma, when leaving the hospital a month later my meld was 16. I don’t know what it was when I went in. 9 months later I got it down to 10 &now 15 mos post diagnosis, it’s 8! I totally agree about the diet. I switched to raw vegan & I drastically improved FAST all while maintaining my weight. Stories like our are a gift from God& meant to be shared to inspire others. Congrats on your success! May it continue for many years!

    Reply
  8. Jane

    Hi Ian, you are an inspiration and have given me some hope. I’m currently too scared to go to the doctor to get diagnosed as I’m 100% certain they’re going to tell me that I have cirrhosis and I just can’t face it. I realised about a week ago that this was happening to me so I’ve quit alcohol and have already started following your diet advice, but just can’t bring myself to go to the doctor as it will make it so real and I still have so much to live for 🙁 I’m so angry at myself for letting it get to this stage, I didn’t realise things could get to this irreversible stage with no symptoms so had thought I was ok 🙁

    Reply
  9. Ronin990

    Thanks for your thoughtful articles Ian. You are very open and an inspiration. Your recipes are lovely, I’ve already tried a couple.

    Keep up the good fight.

    Reply
  10. Brandon

    Thank you for sharing your story. I was diagnosed at age 29 with Cirrhosis as I was admitted to the hospital yellow and so weak I could hardly walk. It did not stop me from drinking though at first. I did however finally go to rehab and start going to 12 step meetings. I am not 31 and keep relapsing, I know how fast this can hurt me and sometimes I kind of hope it does. It is a very hard road and I feel that I am at the point that I just do not care. It takes a strong person to want to better themselves, I just graduated college finally and things are going very well in my life. It just does not seem to be enough to keep me from drinking. I wish you continued success in this. As for me, not so much, I see my days as numbered.

    Reply
    1. Ianjw

      Brandon, I’m sure you believe me when I say I know how you feel. Guess what… I still feel like I’ve cut my life expectancy short as it stands. Do you know why I feel this way? Because it’s (insert favorite expletive here) true! I’d like to say two things to you my friend. First, forgive yourself for feeling this way. You’ve done some harm but you are clearly still with us and speaking for this community, we’d love it if you stuck around. I’ve had to cut ties with more friends than I thought I’d have to. I’ve found that my sober self (i.e. ME) is far more fun to be and far more attractive to God as I know him. Second, I allowed myself to make food my new addiction. Many of my close friends don’t like that I’m trading one for another but it is not their life to live. I’ve made myself that annoying guy who watches and talks about Iron Chef as much as the Dallas Cowboys. By the way, you can still BBQ and adhere to this diet, so fear not!

      AA is incredible thing as well. Even when I don’t want to go to a meeting, I find if I do that surrounding yourself with people who have felt as screwed and screwed up as you and I can feel does alleviate some of the stress and shame I put on myself. I mean, where else can a bunch of selfish alcoholics go and talk about themselves for an hour?
      Lastly, and this may sound crazy, but you can wear your addiction like armor. You can freely admit your alcoholism and demonstrate to all what it takes to fight against a fierce personal enemy. Fake friends will find their way out and when the fog lifts, you’ll see what you really have in life. I do not have much, but all I have is real amigo. Stay tough and keep in touch.

      Reply
  11. Aimee Marotta

    Thank you for sharing your story in I’m in the same boat and I would like to get your book how do I go about doing that

    Reply
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