Alcohol May Have Ruined My Heart. Is it Ruining Yours?


Let us start this blog with a fact.  I, Bob Aronson, am an alcoholic.   I was treated for chemical dependency in 1982 and have had no relapses. My drug of choice was Vodka but in lieu of the Russian national drink, anything would do as long as it had alcohol or any other mind-altering substance in it.  I really liked alcohol; it released me from my inhibitions and demons and made me forget.  singing warning

For example – I do not remember the entire Carter Administration.  At the time, I was the communications director for a Minnesota Governor and, they tell me, I worked with and met President Carter on several occasions.  I honestly don’t remember much about those years. My behavior during that time was deplorable.  At least I think so, but I can’t really remember a lot of it. 

As far as my body is concerned, the worst thing about my drinking was that the drug combined with my chain cigarette smoking (I dumped that addiction in 1991) could be partially responsible for developing cardiomyopathy and then needing a heart transplant. 

I still cannot believe that I, a 68-year old man with a history of 3 or more packs a day of cigarette smoking, at least a quart a day of Vodka and currently with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) got a heart transplant.  Most certainly God smiled upon me that day because I did not think I deserved a new heart.  I think of my old behavior often and as a result I promise my donor every day, that I will take very good care of his heart. 

The best part of the story is that while I waited 12 years to get on the transplant list once there it was a mere 13 days before I got a heart.  13 days…that’s unbelievable and that knowledge has changed me in ways I cannot describe.

I know I am extremely lucky; you don’t have to tell me that.  I, too, wonder how I got a heart when so many people on the list have been waiting for years, were younger and sicker than I was too but, on that night in 2007 I was the best match…maybe the only match.    Despite that,  I am still amazed amazed and thankful.  I figured that if God decided to keep me around for a while it must be because there was something he wanted me to do.  I hope promoting organ donation is what he wanted because that is what I have chosen to do and I am committed to giving it my best effort until I can no longer type or think. 

So what’s the point of this blog?  I’m writing it to warn people, especially the young, how dangerous alcohol consumption can be.  And — yes, this is about organ donation and transplantation.  glass with line through it

If you drink too much or use drugs, you are probably going to damage your precious organs.  That means two things.  1) You may not be able to donate your organs and 2) you become more likely to need a transplant. Right now the organ supply is much less than the demand.  One solution to the problem is to make sure we all lead healthier lives.  If we do that we just might have enough organ donors someday (unless the altruistic approach changes and I hope it does).. 

I understand the effects of alcohol.  Drinking can kill you! I know, I was dead a couple of times because of my drinking.   Even if you don’t think you drink much, each beer or drink causes damage to your body. According to a student study at Bryn Mawr College: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f01/web1/chew.html 

“Due to the irritant action of alcohol, high consumption increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, tongues, and esophagus. There is also the risk of liver diseases such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Heavy drinkers are also at risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.”

And – there’s this from SAMHSA’s (U>S. Dept of Health & human services National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information) web site. http://www.samhsa.gov/

“Though alcohol affects every organ of the body, it’s most dramatic impact is upon the liver.  The liver cells normally prefer fatty acids as fuel, and package excess fatty acids as triglycerides, which they then route to other tissues of the body.  However, when alcohol is present, the liver cells are forced to first metabolize the alcohol, letting the fatty acids accumulate, sometimes in huge amounts.  Alcohol metabolism permanently changes liver cell structure, which impairs the liver’s ability to metabolize fats.  This explains why heavy drinkers tend to develop fatty livers. The liver is able to metabolize about ½ ounce of ethanol per hour,,,,”alcohol risk of 60 cconditions

And, the Women’s Heart Foundation has something to say as well:  http://www.womensheartfoundation.org/content/HeartDisease/alcohol_and_heart_disease.asp

“Most people don’t think of alcohol as a drug…but it is. Alcohol abuse has destroyed more lives, broken apart more families, caused more diseases and contributed to more auto fatalities than any other drug. It is the major contributing factor in the growing epidemic of domestic violence.”  

So perhaps this missive has motivated you to ask questions of yourself (in the dictionary missive is defined as a letter from an official – well, I am an official – an official drunk.  I am a drunk now and always will be.  As long as I remember that I won’t use alcohol or drugs).

Back to the motivation.  Hazelden Foundation, one of the premier chemical dependency treatment centers in the world, is near the twin cities in Minnesota.  They not only treat addictions but they also do a lot of research.  You’ve probably seen Hazelden material.  Their website http://www.hazelden.org/  has a great deal of very useful information.  Browse it and you will see what I mean.  One item in particular is a short test to help you understand what your drinking habits mean.  The test is confidential and you can remain anonymous. http://alcoholscreening.org/AS/index.aspx?CID=86

The following excerpts are from the website below.  I urge you to go to Dr. Dunlap’s site and read all of it – twice!  By:  Michaele P. Dunlap, Psy.D,  Clinical Psychologist. http://www.oregoncounseling.org/ArticlesPapers/Documents/ETOHBIOFx.htm The brain, liver, heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, and every other organ and tissue system are infiltrated by alcohol within minutes after it passes into the blood stream. The strength of the drink will have a significant effect on absorption rates, with higher concentrations of alcohol resulting in more rapid absorption.  

BODY SYSTEMS AND EFFECTS

The Liver: hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperuricemia (as in arthritis or gout), fatty liver (which may lead to hepatitis or cirrhosis), and hyperlipemia (build-up of fats sent to the bloodstream; which leads to heart problems).

Central Nervous System: When alcohol acts on the CNS, intoxication occurs, affecting emotional and sensory function, judgment, memory and learning ability. Smell and taste are dulled.

The Bloodcapillaries break, create red eyes in the morning, or the red, blotchy skin seen on the heavy drinker’s face. Blood vessels can also break in the stomach and esophagus leading to hemorrhage, even death.

The Gastrointestinal Tract:: In time, the drinker’s overworked pancreas may stop producing insulin and diabetes can result. Conversely, a person with a family history of diabetes may be more vulnerable to problems with alcohol.

The Muscles: One outcome is cardiomyopathy (sluggish heart) which is common in alcoholics. Another outcome, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), or “holiday heart,” is often treated in emergency wards after several days of party drinking. Muscle aches are a common symptom of excessive-drinking “hangovers.

The Endocrine System: This system controls the body’s hormones and includes the pineal, pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands, and the ovaries or testes. Prolonged use of alcohol can cause infertility in both men and women.

Special Concerns of WomenFemale drinkers reach higher blood alcohol levels (BAL’s) faster because of less water and more fat in the body and because of differences in digestive enzymes. Women develop alcohol-related disorders such as brain damage, cirrhosis and cancers at lower levels of drinking than men.

FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME (FAS) and FETAL ALCOHOL EFFECT (FAE): Women who drink during pregnancy risk the development of both mental and physical defects in their children. Effects on the child can include: growth deficiencies; poorly formed bones and organs, heart abnormalities, cleft palate, retarded intellect, delayed motor development, poor coordination, behavior problems, and learning disabilities.”

And so, my blog.  There are a number of comedians who make fun of people with drinking problems, we all laugh and that is just fine.  I sure don’t mind.  But don’t let the laughter mask the problem.  I ruined a good part of my life, did significant damage to my health and to relationships with my family, friends and the people I worked for not to mention those I offended but can’t remember. 

The disease of alcoholism is cunning (the big book) and lethal.  I used to say, “I can quit drinking anytime I want to,” and I would, for maybe two weeks at a time.  Then I would say, “See, I did it” and my car would automatically turn into the parking lot of the nearest liquor store.  All I can say is, please watch your consumption of alcohol.  I don’t preach abstinence I preach caution.  Explore some of the sites I have noted here and learn more about the subject.  Parents especially need to be aware.

 

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 3,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our new music video “Dawn Anita The Gift of Life” on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYFFJoHJwHs.  This video is free to anyone who wants to use it and no permission is needed. 

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

En Espanol

Puede comentar en el espacio proporcionado o por correo electrónico sus pensamientos a mí en bob@baronson.org. Y – por favor, difundir la palabra acerca de la necesidad inmediata de más donantes de órganos. No hay nada que puedas hacer lo que es de mayor importancia. Si usted convence a una persona de ser donante de órganos y tejidos puede salvar o afectar positivamente a más de 60 vidas. Algunas de esas vidas pueden ser personas que conoces y amas.

Por favor, consulte nuestro nuevo video musical “Dawn Anita The Gift of Life” en https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYFFJoHJwHs YouTube. Este video es libre para cualquier persona que quiera usarlo y no se necesita permiso.

Si quieres correr la voz acerca de la donación de órganos personalmente, tenemos otra presentación de PowerPoint para su uso libre y sin permiso. Sólo tienes que ir a http://www.organti.org y haga clic en “Life Pass It On” en el lado izquierdo de la pantalla y luego sólo tienes que seguir las instrucciones. Esto no es un espectáculo independiente, sino que necesita un presentador pero es profesionalmente producida y sonido hechos. Si usted decide usar el programa le enviaré una copia gratuita de mi libro electrónico, “Cómo obtener un pie” O “que le ayudará con habilidades de presentación. Sólo tiene que escribir a bob@baronson.org y por lo general usted recibirá una copia del mismo día.

Además … hay más información sobre este sitio de blogs sobre otros donación / trasplante temas. Además nos encantaría que te unas a nuestro grupo de Facebook, la Iniciativa de Trasplante de Órganos Cuantos más miembros que obtenemos mayor será nuestra influencia con los tomadores de decisiones.

Posted on March 4, 2008, in alcohol and drugs. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Claudia:
    I appreciate your concern for the young man you mentioned but I am not a substance abuse counselor, I’m just a recovering drunk. Every person is different and we all react differently to alcohol. I suggest that you or the young man contact a treatment center (Hazelden in Minnesota is my favorite (www.hazelden.org). They are the oldest and largest non-profit treatment center in the country. Visit their website and email them with your questions. Or visit their FAQ section. I wish I could be of more help. One thing I remember, though, from my treatment is this, “If alcohol is causing problems, you may have an alcohol problem.”

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  2. Do you think that a young man that drinks 1.75 litter of Vodka in two weeks (sometimes less) at home a binge drinker? And also drinks socially out of the home with friends at least once a week. Is that too much and can it cause the problems you mentioned?

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  3. Good Morning Bob,

    Congratulations on that heart transplant of yours. And thank you for speaking so openly and honestly about your addiction. You are certainly making the dialogue about donation richer and more accessible and you do it with that Bob flare and sense of humor. Hope to see you again up this way in the land of 10,000 recovery programs.

    Like

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