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A liver failure patient from Rhymney Valley reflects on the anniversary of his transplant

Gareth Evans

Gareth Evans, 44, is celebrating the one-year anniversary of his liver transplant, following years of alcoholism.

The successful media professional became hooked on alcohol beyond his greatest fears in 2012 after self-medicating to shield mental health issues, which led to a life-threatening addiction.

He said: “I was drinking a lot. Before it was too late, I was on at least 2 litres of spirits a day; drinking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I remember one evening, a colleague and I went out after work – I was living in Manchester at the time, and I had consumed so much alcohol that on our way into town I started having seizures on the tram. It was then that I knew I needed to leave my career in media and return to Rhymney Valley to stop this downwards spiral. Still, the disease had taken over my life, and I continued to drink. I was sectioned on several occasions, underwent failed detox programs, ended up virtually homeless and ignored medical advice, unaware of the impact alcohol was having on my liver.”

In November 2017, Gareth was diagnosed with severely advanced liver disease, after his husband, Stephen came home to find the veins around Gareth’s esophagus had burst and blood had seeped out into the body.

He said: “The toxins from my liver had begun attacking my brain and other organs and I slipped into an alcohol induced coma.

“The doctor talked me through the severity of my situation, and something clicked, and I knew I needed to beat this disease, or I was going to die. I stopped drinking and I was put onto the transplant list. I needed to turn my guilt into gratitude and focused on the future as I started my journey towards recovery.”

Gareth was travelling to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham weekly for appointments and surgery, alongside his support group of his husband and mother.

He said: “I was slowly dying and after three weeks I had the call I was waiting for – a liver was waiting for me.  At first, I didn’t feel worthy, but I knew I needed to keep positive. My partner Stephen and I endured the anxious motorway journey to Queen Elizabeth Hospital however the call turned out to be one of four ‘dress rehearsals’. Each liver was unsuitable, either because of their health or size.

“In July 2019, I had been admitted into Prince Charles Hospital because my liver had dislodged itself and was floating in my body. I remember the doctor telling me to say my goodbyes, when the unthinkable happened, my mobile rang and there was a liver waiting for me. Within the hour, I was in a blue light transfer to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.”

In July 2019, Gareth underwent a 12-hour transplant and his new liver was inserted. After months of rejection and complications, Gareth’s organ is now functioning, and he is extremely positive and hopeful for the future.

He said: “As a liver transplant patient, organ donation is a huge life-changer for both recipient and donor family. The lifesaving gesture is something I found hard to come to terms with, but I’m positive now and I’ll always remember the gift that my donor has given me.

“I feel for my donor family, wherever they are, as they too remember their loved one this year. I imagine they will face it with the same courage, spirit and beauty they did when they took the decision to save my life.

“Through my work as a volunteer at the British Liver Trust, I want to go on to help people like me who have been given a second chance at life. I’ve already met so many transplant patients whose lives have been transformed or extended through organ donation and, it’s been said that the family of donors find comfort knowing that their loved one has gone on to save lives. Through my brutal honesty, I hope that my story will help others and although I’ve learnt the hard way, I’m forever grateful for the cards I’ve been dealt and will vow to forever take care of this life I have.”

Public Affairs and Engagement Manager, Angie Contestabile, established the British Liver Trust’s work in Wales through the Welsh Government’s Liver Disease Delivery Plan.

She said: “The team, based in Wales raise awareness of the causes of liver disease, campaign for early detection and give patients a voice in the care and support that they receive from Health Board level through to Welsh Government and with Members of the Senedd in Welsh Parliament. When Gareth first joined the virtual support groups in Wales, he had some conflicting feelings about the transplant; that he was immensely grateful for receiving a new liver but that it was joy felt over something associated with someone else’s death.

“The British Liver Trust helped to break down these feelings and helped you to understand that guilt is a common reaction that people have after a transplant. For both the family of the donor and the recipient, the transplant is also a way to get a sense of meaning from a death. The gifts that transplant recipients receive create gifts for donor families too. Transplant recipients are helping the donors by receiving the gift of life and being committed to taking care of the new liver.”

People’s lives can be changed by organ donation, but with over 260 people on the transplant waiting list in Wales alone, there is still a need for more donors.