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.

 

BE HEALTHY EVERY DAY with Further Food Collagen Peptides! Collagen heals your body from the inside out. Learn more here!

 

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

  1. Rebecca

    Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your success!!! I’m 36 and have been drinking for a little over a year, not even that much but enough to make my liver and spleen swell, I guess?? It was kind of shocking really!!! Apparently I gave myself alcoholic hepatitis, my eyes are yellow. I quit drinking in the hospital my liquor of choice, which is 99 proof liquor. I have had a half of beer here and there, it’s been a week since I’ve gotten out of the hospital. I see a specialist soon, but I don’t think the Dr’s believed me on how much I actually drank. I drank 3 100ml small bottles of the 99’s over a 24 hr period. The withdrawals were bad in the beginning but no comas or seizures. Your story sounds like mine, I would start shaking and I would just drink to feel better. I woke up feeling sick and would throw up just to hurry and drink to feel better. Little did I knew it was my body not being able to handle the toxins that was making me sick. My liver is huge and spleen too. I’m on this medicine that clears the ammonia, it’s awful!!! But I just want my eyes to be white again and to not look like I’m pregnant. I was self medicating too, tried to get mental help after my kids father passed away in 2015. Then tried again after I had my 4th baby that almost died because he was born without a diaphragm. He was very sick. I didn’t drink and took care of myself and they don’t know what causes some baby’s to be born with that congenital defect. Anyway I could never get the actual help I needed for ptsd and drinking was an easy go to… or so I thought?? Now I’m struggling with liver problems and my kids need me!!! I can’t have something happen to me!!! I need to quit all together, it’s not like a beer here and there does anything really. Anyway I’m eating better and thank you for your diet guidelines. I’ve been eating better, but need to watch my sodium intake I think more. Sorry this is so long!!! Thank you so much for your hope!!! And prayer has been a huge part of this for me as well!!! May God be with you, you sharing your story has helped many of us!!!

    Reply
  2. Aldo Reyes

    Thank you so much for giving me hope for a smi normal life and not dwelling on death. I also am in the hospitality industry and I can so very much relate to your story.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Was your cirrhosis compensated or decompensated? My mom has been diagnosed with end stage decompensated liver cirrhosis and I have read that decompensated cannot be reversed 🙁

    Reply
  4. Bonnie Player

    Hi, I am a 66 year old teacher and grandmother fighting cirrhosis for 20 odd years now. This past weekend I ended up in the hospital with an ammonia level of 220. Don’t remember a thing! I was told things like end stage liver disease, limited life span. I have had two tumors radiated. I want to see my grandchildren grow and I thank you for the eating tips.
    Although I gave up alcohol years ago I struggle with sugar. I come from a family with strong work ethics and I am struggling to do my best to eat better and hold off this curse with the grace of god.
    Hoping that book of yours got written!
    Thank you for caring enough to share, Bonnie

    Reply
  5. Laurie S Mattson

    Ian… I hope u get this. Thank-you for your story. God wanted you here. My husband who’s 66, was diagnosed with advanced cirrhosis. He threw up blood and also his bowels were. The bleeding sites have been closed up and will heal. But the liver….we don’t know. We believe in the power of prayer… He is going to eat clean, stop drinking, and move more. I pray he’s with me for a long time. Thank-you to t your encouragement, and strength to tell your story. I’m glad you are here and healthy and blessed. God love you.

    Reply
  6. Cathy gallegos

    Wow how amazing, thanku i too am ill with cicrous . U got it when I was giving my mom her insulin shot I poke my self she got hep c from a blood transgression turn to cicrous kill her . And now me too I got hep c then breast canncer an hep c free but now fighting cicrous my among level 107 hasn’t change I eat right lot vetables some fruit no meat just some fish eggs beans I’m need help my Dr doesn’t do anything . He said what u worried about if anyone looks at u couldn’t tell you’ve had canncer or liver debase but what about the pain swelling in my stomack among levels I don’t want a die plus my eyesight going I spent alot time in bed or yoga alone or in the bathroom Cus the lactose I need help please . I know of alpha Lompoc acid treatments interviews but Dr here won’t do them they killing us God BLESSU we just need to keep seeking God’s help to give us wisdom thanku many blessing to u an your k

    Reply
  7. Rachel Covert

    Thank you for your words. Gives me hope for my sister who is currently in the hospital with cirrhosis God Bless you and thank you for sharing your story!

    Reply
  8. Lisa l Fuller

    Have you heard of a Lectin free diet? Or lectin low diet? My liver doctor has pointed me in this direction. Pretty much same story but through in Hemochromotosis, too much iron and that is me. lol My recent MELD is 7. UNBELIEVABLE! Miracle. Thanks

    PS my Kid went to TWU on scholarship in gymnastics until I got so sick and things changed. 🙁 Love the downtown area and the ice cream shop.

    Reply
  9. Adelyn Duncan

    I’m very happy for you and glad that your trip to recovery was successful. The amount of pride I felt for someone I didn’t know what overwhelming. I offer you my congratulations. I had one question for you and that was, did you drink when you were underage? Thank you and I offer you the best of luck with the rest of your life. Hope you are doing well!

    Reply
  10. Donny W Killen

    I was diagnosed with Hep. C three years ago, I have taken my Mavyret and still not better. I believe I have cirrhosis but haven’t been diagnosed yet. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Recipe Team

      Donny: Glad you found Further Food. We are here to help you eat and feel better-this can help with your illness and symptoms. You can follow us for more articles by Ian and others on hepatits and cirrhosis.

      Reply
  11. Heath Odegaard

    How long did you drink for? I’ve been drinking for 8 years just stopped having cardiomyopathy almost daily what can i do I have a 2 year old will I live long enough

    Reply
  12. Bela

    Hi Ian. My story is eerily similar to yours except I wasn’t a Sommelier, but a winemaker for 25 years working for some of the most prestigious wineries in North America and Europe. I worked for a winery with a 2 million gallon production capacity (still wines, sparklings, champagne, ports, sherries, icewines, ciders, you name it). I had to taste 30-50 samples on a daily basis. Even though you spit them out, some residue would inadvertently get into your system. I was diagnosed with stage 4 liver disease two years ago and given 3-6 months to live. On top of it doctors found a legion in my liver. I was sick as a dog for months, lost 40 pounds, looked like a skeleton. First I became depressed but then I said F.ck No! I put down the glass for good, started eating healthy food, fruits, veggies, lot of protein-rich articles, took long walks, lifted weights. My ascitis diminished gradually to minimal, my tumor is in remission, feel great and can say I beat it. I also believe that your story is an inspiration to others. Do Not give up!

    Reply
  13. Adair

    I am reading this today as my brother is dying in hospice 3000 miles away. My little brother is 65. I knew or found out he was, is, an alcoholic. Dying now of chirosis, he could have had many more years with his wife,children, and grandchildren, and his beloved dog. I love him. I am so very sad.
    Please get help. Whoever you are. We, who love you, need you. I too, am fighting addiction to gambling. Today I am on my plan. Join me in recovery for all addictions.

    Reply
  14. Lena Jenkins

    My mom is fighting for her life in intensive care in India thousands of miles away from me and it takes 5-10 days to get the Visum. She id 80 years old and 30 years of drinking has taking its toll. Liver cirrosis … she had a dialysis 2 days ago but no response – her liver is making havoc in her body and she is on a ventilator now – I hope she will wake up and have the same luck as you Bless you

    Reply
  15. Jayla

    How long before you felt better? I was somewhat diagnosed 2 years ago, and I haven’t been to the hospital in months and before that was only for paracentesis once a month or two. I did finally change my diet a yearish ago. I went full blown low sodium to 900-1200 mg a day. After that the fluid came off slowly better and better. Which makes the world of difference with being able to eat again. Now I’m feeling…dare I say normal these days? I hardly even go to my regular physician only to get refills on my prescriptions. And my liver dr only asks to see me every 6 mo now. I go later this month and I’ll find out where I am but he made it sound like I was dead at an 8 and only 28. Two years later I’m still here and feel same as I did 15 years ago, which is better than the last 10 years. Not the sluggish dying drunk anymore I can do pretty much any physical activity I set out to do.

    Reply
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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
  26. 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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