A story like this one is almost a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is incredibly inspiring to hear that lives are being saved because of liver transplants. But conversely, why are so many needed year after year? The sad truth is, alcoholism plays a big role in the need for this procedure; which certainly merits further exploration.
Over the past decade, liver transplant procedures have more than tripled across the U.S. According to medical records, in 2002 the transplant count was approximately 433 a year. By 2016, however, that total had risen up to 1,253. And studies have shown that the leading causes for the surgery are alcoholic cirrhosis, alcoholic cirrhosis with hepatitis C and acute alcoholic hepatitis.
Another sad stat to arise relates to the aftermath of these transplants. Tragically, survival rates for those who received new livers because of alcoholism was 11 percent lower than their counterparts. As study co-author Dr. Norah Terrault explained to CNN, there should definitely be follow ups in place after a procedure is complete. Just because you have a new organ doesn’t mean you can easily let go of your old habits.
“We really need to look at ways to improve alcohol-related liver disease,” she told the site. “The goal is always to reduce complications like relapse and deaths due to malignancy and infection.”
There is also talk about how to screen candidates for these types of procedures. Back in the early 1980’s when liver transplant surgeries were in their infancy, a six month abstinence order was require to ensure patients were willing to give up alcohol. Nowadays, that regulation is long gone; particularly because each case is so unique and half a year may be too little time for people to wait.
CNN also covered the debate of “who may be worthy” of a liver transplant. Is it fair, per se, for non-alcoholics to rise to the top of the list? Perhaps because their condition was not “self inflicted?” It’s a factor many call out, particularly when demand for this procedure has become so high.
Dr. Terrault chimed in on this too, emphasizing (and we believe rightly so) that alcoholism is not a choice for many people, but rather a disease.
“Should someone who ate too much never receive a heart transplant?” she asked. “People today are living long periods of time and eventually dying from things that have a significant lifestyle component. Focusing on just one aspect of a person’s life can cross the line of what is fair and socially just.”