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Will Power — It Works As Well On Alcoholism As It Does On Diahrrea


By Bob Aronson

sobriety for opener

Alcohol abuse, especially outright alcoholism is a leading cause of the organ shortage because of its destructive effect on the heart, pancreas, liver, kidneys, reproductive organs and stomach. There are over 123,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the U.S. and with only about 30,000 transplants a year, many on that list will die.

As a former drinker, a heart transplant recipient and the author of most of these blogs, I am always intensely interested in stories or postings about alcohol and drug abuse, so I actively seek the latest information about those subjects.

In that light, I was surfing the internet recently when I came across a group discussion of the issue. What caught my attention was this statement, “If you make the decision to start drinking you can make the decision to stop. Just say, NO, I’m not going to drink anymore, then pray for sobriety and it will come.”

When I saw that my immediate reaction was that the writer was unaware of what it’s like to be an addict and the total misery in which the alcoholic lives. It is a life no one would wish on their worst enemy. It is a life no one would live if they had a clear choice to get out of it. I wish it was so simple as to just, “quit.” or say, “NO,” but more on that, later.

***(A note to the reader. Throughout this blog I refer to the alcoholic as “he” for convenience. Please read it as he/she or him/her because everything I relate here applies to both genders. Also, I can only relate to the disease as a male. Women have many of the same experiences as men, but many more that are totally different. In many ways women suffer even more than their male counterparts)

I am writing this in my role as a recovering alcoholic of some 34 years. I have not had a drink of alcohol in all that time, I am not drinking today and I don’t plan to tomorrow, but I live every moment of every day with the knowledge that I am just one drink away from returning to  the greatest misery man can inflict on himself whether physically, emotionally or both.

This is not one of those “tell-all confessions.” Since the birth of this blog in 2007 I’ve received dozens of requests for more information on alcoholism, but not for the usual fare, many of our readers want to know what it’s like to be an alcoholic. This is an attempt to answer that question, to explain the agony of alcoholism and to help you recognize that the alcoholic can’t “just quit.” I hope it offers some insight into the alcoholic mind and answers at least a few questions you may have about what it’s like to be a drunk.

Those who say, “Just quit,” or, “just say no” have no idea what it’s like to be a full-blown, full-time, uncontrollablejust say no drunk. If it was a matter of choice, a matter of will power, a matter over which alcoholics had control they would not choose to live that way. It is a life of absolute misery, dishonesty and risk. Your best friend and worst enemy is the bottle, it totally controls your life. Every minute of your existence revolves around making sure you have access to alcohol. If you have to choose between eating and drinking, you’ll drink. If you have to choose between bleeding to death and drinking, you’ll choose bleeding and if you have to choose between those you love and alcohol, you will choose alcohol and all the while knowing it’s wrong — totally and absolutely wrong. Worse yet, as you continue to choose alcohol over what’s right, that cloud of oppressive guilt that follows you around  will tighten its stranglehold forcing you to consume more in another feeble attempt to stop the agony.

One other point about “If you can choose to drink, you can choose to stop.” The initial choice to drink is usually made while sober and for many, it is the last sober choice they make. Once the brain is supersaturated with alcohol, how do you get it to make a rational, logical choice? You can’t. The only time choosing to stop drinking might work is if you choose to get HELP to stop drinking, because you cannot do it alone. You must, as the AA Big Book says, realize and admit that you are powerless over alcohol and your life has become unmanageable. Only when you are willing to put your life in the hands of others (usually highly qualified addiction professionals) do you stand a chance of getting it back.

alcoholism definitionI stopped to read the post and comments I mentioned earlier because I have an interest in the subject. Addiction runs in my family. I was a practicing alcoholic for a long time and the practice paid off, I became a perfect drunk. It started when I was a teen who thought a weekend of beer consumption was normal behavior. I realized at that early age that while others could have a can of beer or two and then quit, I couldn’t. I always drank until drunk (sometimes unconscious) or until we ran out of alcohol whichever came first.

My early adulthood was not unlike most other people, I was young, struggling to pay the bills and unable to afford alcohol so my drinking problem wasn’t all that obvious. I knew, though, that anytime alcoholic beverages were available my old pattern continued. Once I started drinking I couldn’t stop. As time went on and there was a little more money, I drank more. At first it was just In the evening and on weekends but before long I was following my father’s habit of having a little “bump” upon arising each day. That progressed to several “bumps” and finally arriving at work drunk and staying that way. I was not a bar fly, I did most of my drinking privately and…I was good at hiding it. From jobs in broadcast journalism to serving as a Minnesota Governor’s Communications Director and then back to broadcast journalism I was a full-blown alcoholic and almost no one knew it. I was under the influence of alcohol even when I was on the air several hours a day and yet, no one ever mentioned it.  Not then and not since. .

I had tried a hundred times to quit drinking and each time I did it with great resolve, but my best efforts never lasted longer than a week  or two before I was back to my old habits. Finally, though, I hit bottom. It was 10 o’clock  in the morning and I had already consumed nearly a quart of vodka and hadn’t eaten in days. I was very sick. Sicker than I had ever been before. While my head was nearly in the toilet bowl I made the decision to get help. I crawled to the phone, found the yellow pages and located a treatment center a couple of miles from my home. I then called my brother, told him what I wanted to do and asked him to drive me there.

It was about noon on Saturday July 17, 1982 and my blood alcohol was 3 times the legal limit. I was so wracked with guilt and pain and so sick I just wanted someone to help me feel good again. I was, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

The Mounds Park hospital and treatment center in St. Paul, Minnesota no longer exists but they were the right people in the right place at the right time. I have not had a drink since, but I could not have done it alone. “So,” you ask, “Why are you writing this?” I’m doing so because I’m hoping to bring some understanding to the issue.

The first few days in treatment were awful. When I wasn’t in the bathroom emptying my stomach, I spent my time trying to think of a way to get out of there and get a drink, but the papers I had signed had me in voluntary lockdown. Saturday, Sunday and Monday were probably the most tortured moments of my life. I was so sick I prayed for death. Even though they gave me tranquilizers this “purging” period was awful. I later learned that withdrawal from alcohol addiction is among the worst and can be deadly. As I dried out I never left my room, talked to none of the other patients, didn’t eat and drank what seemed to be gallons of water and even that wouldn’t stay down. Anyone who has ever had a hangover, has experienced just a smidgen of what alcohol withdrawal is like for the person who consumes it by the quart or liter every day of his life. It is why the alcoholic needs some “hair of the dog that bit you” in the morning. it’s the perfect way to cure a hangover. If you never stop drinking you never have a hangover. Well — almost.

facts abot deathI’m sure there are many who have been heavy drinkers, made the decision to quit and did. Others counted on God’s intervention and it worked, but for the vast majority of alcoholism sufferers quitting is beyond their ability. That was and is e nature of my condition. I am absolutely convinced that my ability to quit drinking was unrelated to will power. An alcoholism counselor once told me, “If you think will power will work, the next time you have diarrhea, use will power to stop it.” Just the thought of drinking again scares the hell out of me.

So, you might ask how and when you know you are an alcoholic and that’s a great question. In the deep dark recesses of your mind you probably know from that first drunk when you couldn’t stop drinking. The great test of whether there is something amiss is for me quite simple. Most normal, social drinkers can have one or two drinks and quit with no discomfort. I can’t. I know I can’t because I tried it many times. I find it impossible to believe the claims of some who say, “Addiction can be cured.” I will only accept that when they can show me highly supervised, peer reviewed, large group, long term clinical studies that clearly show patients who were cured can drink again and stop after one or two. Anyone or any organizations that claims to have a cure and cannot provide that evidence does not, in my view, have one.

Only others who share my experience will really understand this, but once I have a single drink of alcohol something is triggered in me that is so strong, so incredibly powerful it will cause me to have another and another and another. As the adage goes, “One drink is too much and a thousand are not enough.”

To further the point you might ask, “Well what if you had that drink and then thought real hard about the consequences like, Hey Bob,  you could lose your job, your marriage, everything that is dear to you and wind up in prison for life as well, wouldn’t that stop you?” I guess a rational mind would immediately agree that those considerations would cause you to step back from the bar, but – you must remember the alcoholic mind is not one that is rational. It is driven by a craving so deep and so irrational it will violate every moral and ethical standard you ever had in order to spend more time with its best friend forever, alcohol.

That is not to say the alcoholic has no conscience. Once he has done whatever horrendous thing it was that relieved him of all that he loved he will feel great guilt, depression and sorrow. He will swear to change and to make things right, but when the agony of the hangover (withdrawal) begins he will again turn to the bottle. Does he have a choice to drink or not to drink? Of course, and the alcoholic will vow time and time again to make that choice, to quit drinking and will be incredibly strong in his resolve as long as he is under alcohol’s influence, but the resolve diminishes right along with the influence.

“One more drink,” he says, “will get me back on the road to sobriety,” and he really believes it, but one leads to six and to ten more and then to a repeat of the very behavior that caused all the guilt and there’s only one way to deal with it, more alcohol. It is a powerful drug and while it can cause one to lose his inhibitions (read that “good sense”), it also helps one forget, until you start getting a little sober and then you start all over again.

So you see, the alcoholic knows he has choices and he is willing to make the right one, but he never gets to a point where he feels good enough to make it, unless he is drunk and then even his alcoholic mind knows he has failed again.
drunk in trashAlcoholism is not only the failure to say “no” to the drug, it is also a complete abandonment of all that you know is right —  a behavior change so great as to be unbelievable. The image of an alcoholic that many have is of a foul-smelling bum in dirty clothes who sleeps in a cardboard box in a dark, trash cluttered alley. He is inarticulate, uneducated and offensive. That’s the stereotype, but you know what? That’s only a partial picture.

The rest of the story is quiet and invisible. Every day millions of alcoholics get dressed for work in a stylish suit, and works right alongside you. When I was drinking heavily in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s I wore expensive clothing, drove very nice cars and was always presentable and functioning. I anchored TV and radio news shows, hosted a radio talk show and functioned as the press secretary to a state Governor. Few  who knew me would call me a drunk. They might know that I drank a little, but no one would suggest I was an alcoholic.

Like many alcoholics I was pretty good at functioning while inebriated. Even the people with which I worked moshiding a bottlet closely had no idea that I had a secret life. They didn’t know that the double wide briefcase I carried was not full of office work. H, it carried a quart of vodka and a carton of cigarettes. They didn’t know that when I arrived at the office in in the morning, I had already had several drinks or that I had slept in a chair in the clothing I wore the day before. They were unaware that I hid my bottle in the bottom of the men’s room waste basket so whenever I wanted a drink, I just went to the men’s room. They didn’t know that behind the wall mirror in my bathroom at home, I had built a carefully hidden compartment to house my liquor supply. It was constructed while my wife was at work to ensure secrecy. The hidden latch on the wall mirror let it swing open to reveal several bottles sitting on a 2 X 4 shelf. It is where I got my first drink of the day, just a little something to get the hair off of my tongue and get my heart started. Neither friends nor family knew about the sandpit about six blocks from my home. It had a bottle of vodka hidden under the “No trespassing” sign that was only recoverable under the cover of night. There may have been other places as well and the bottles may still be there because I forgot where I put them.

Not all, but many alcoholics suffer from “Blackouts” and I was one of them. I know one fellow traveler who says he missed the “entire Carter Administration.” Blackouts are periods of time that cannot be remembered. They are periods when you can walk, talk and work and remember none of it. There are huge gaps in my memory of those years and it is attempting to recollect them that threatens my sobriety even though they were a long time ago and I might have just fallen asleep. It is not knowing and suspecting the worst that beckons me to have “just one.” The flashing red, white and blue neon “Liquor” signs act as strong magnets that seek to pull my car into their parking lots. I shudder to think of what I might have done that I cannot remember. So far, though, my recovery program and support system have proved to be a stronger force and I fear the liquor sign more than I fear the memories.

liquor sign
When you are a practicing alcoholic you have to spend a whole lot of time making sure you have an uninterrupted supply of alcohol. There’s a lot of planning that goes into being a drunk because our greatest fear is running out of liquor. In Minnesota you can’t buy hard liquor or even strong beer on a Sunday. The liquor stores close at 10 PM on Saturday night and don’t open again until 8 AM on Monday. It is critical that the flow of alcohol not be impeded. An ample supply must be available at all times in a place that is always accessible.

We drunks spend a whole lot of time hiding our addiction, even to the point of having a hidden secret stock that can be consumed privately so when attending a party you can be seen drinking a Coke or Pepsi not liquor, wine or beer. During that time I had many people comment on the fact that I rarely “Drank” and I always agreed.

When I was Anchoring a regional network radio news show five mornings a week, I sat across a desk from my producer. We were almost in each other’s faces every day and I was never sober. One weekend I called her and said, “Christa, I won’t be in on Monday, I’m in treatment.”

“C’mon Bob, is this your idea of a joke? Why are you calling?” She was quite indignant.

“I’m in treatment for alcoholism, Christa,” I said.

“I told you it’s not funny,” she responded.

It took a while to convince her. We had worked across from each other for three years and she never knew I drank even though I was almost never sober. While on the air I labored mightily to keep my enunciation crisp and to be an errorless reader. Face to face I interviewed Governors, captains of industry, super stars of entertainment and men and women of the cloth while at the same time increasing the profitability of not only the liquor companies but also the businesses that make, distribute and sell Certs breath mints, and Binaca breath freshener.

I think I mentioned that it takes a lot of planning to stay drunk and hide the fact that you are. I worked hard at keeping my drinking preferences and practices secret so I made sure I didn’t frequent the same liquor stores too often. I did not want to be seen frequenting bars and nightclubs, so I didn’t go to them. I almost never drank in a bar. I knew the hours of all the liquor stores, their locations and their prices. I even went so far as to deposit my empty liquor bottles in someone else’ trash cans and often not even in my neighborhood. At work I once put an empty vodka bottle in the corporate President’s waste basket.

Sobering up as I mentioned earlier was not easy. It was terrible. When finally the alcohol was out of my system I sobriety quotevowed to go public with my addiction as a means to help me stay sober. Treatment, AA meetings, being public about my problem helped, I’ve not had a drink since a little before noon on that day in ’82.

While I respect those in the scientific community who insist that alcoholism can be cured and that drinkers can choose to stop, I vehemently disagree. I know scores of sufferers just like me. We talk, we relate, we empathize and our stories are nearly identical. Furthermore I have attended hundreds of AA meetings and read scores of books on the subject. They all verify the fact that those who suffer from alcoholism also suffer with feelings of helplessness, depression, resentments and most importantly — overwhelming guilt.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on addiction I am but a single case among millions. My evidence is anecdotal and not scientifically acceptable, but I know that my story and my experiences are repeated thousands if not millions of times every day. I don’t know why people become alcoholics and I don’t understand the psychology behind it I only know it very nearly ruined my life, hurt my friends and family immeasurably and affected the lives of many others as well.

If someone in your family or circle of friends has a problem with alcohol you can try to help, but don’t be surprised if your offers are perceived as threats and you lose your relationship with that person. The alcoholic didn’t drink for you and is not going to stop for you or for anyone else. He will only stop when he hits rock bottom and can no longer stand living that way. Then he will either seek help and keep seeking it for the rest of his life, or return to drinking and alcoholic bliss where unpleasant memories are washed away in a sea of 90 proof alcohol.

Alcoholism is slow suicide. It will kill you one way or another. Either you will succumb to some disease, or you will drink yourself to death. It’s suicide but very slow, very painful and very effective.

My closing thought is the same as the one with which I opened this posting. The life of an alcoholic is a life of misery, shame, guilt and fear. No one, no one, would choose to live like that if choice was really an option.

Below are some resources for Alcoholics,  their families and friends.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services AdministrationExternal Link—For information about substance abuse prevention and treatment services:

National Institute on Drug Abuse—For information about other drug problems that often co-exist with alcohol problems: 301-443-1124.

National Institute of Mental Health—For information on problems such as anxiety and depression that can co-exist with alcohol problems: 866-615-6464.

bobBob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s over 4,200 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of the nearly 300 posts on this site.  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. You can register to be a donor at http://www.donatelife.net.  It only takes a few minutes. Then, when registered, tell your family about your decision so there is no confusion when the time comes.

Bob’s NewHeart — The Impossible Dream


heart transplant cartoon

“Some men see things as they are and say why.  

I dream things that never were and say, why not”

George Bernard Shaw

This is post number 200 in the Bob’s Newheart Series of blogs on organ donation/transplantation and related issues

On February 17, 2014 I will turn 75.  It is an incredible feat for someone who abused his body as badly as I did.  By my count I have been dead three times. Once from sudden cardiac arrest, once during surgery in a hospital and I suppose once when they took my heart out to give me a new one (maybe that one doesn’t count).  I have to believe that I am only alive today because I was given a mission to do everything in my power to help others who face critical and/or life threatening illnesses.  The social media offer me that opportunity and I have gladly accepted it.

Before I launch into my story I think it is important to point out two factors that may have contributed to my condition but cannot be directly or medically linked to it. First, for 37 years from 1954 until 1991 I was a heavy smoker.  Some days I went through as many as four packs of cigarettes.  There are 20 in a package.  I quit smoking in 1991 because of the onset of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)  and after watching my father die of the same disease in January of that year.  It took many tries, perhaps dozens but finally with the help of nicotine gum I kicked the habit.

I am also a recovering alcoholic.  I was a very heavy drinker for many years.  I won’t go into detail here but finally on July 17 of 1982 I checked myself into treatment at an in-patient center in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I have not had a drink since. While there is no direct medical evidence to tie my tobacco and alcohol use to my heart condition I have no doubt that they were great contributors.  You cannot consume all the chemicals contained in cigarette smoke and the hundreds of gallons of alcohol I drank and not cause damage.  I am quite frankly amazed that I lived long enough to get a heart transplant.

It took 12 years from the time I was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy (heart failure) until I was listed for and got a heart transplant. When I started the Facebook group Organ Transplant Initiative in 2007 I wrote this mission statement:

The mission of Organ Transplant Initiative is to work to ensure than anyone who needs an organ/tissue transplant can get one. 

Some say that’s an impossible dream.  I refuse to accept that.

Bob Aronson

My Story

St. Paul, Minnesota — it is 5 PM on a Friday in mid-July 1995.  I was having a very difficult time breathing all day but chalked it up to my life long battle with asthma.  I removed my albuterol rescue inhaler from my shirt pocket and took two puffs inhaling deeply and holding my breath for a few seconds to give the drug time to work.  It didn’t. I tried again, it still didn’t work so I thought that either the medicine was old or the inhaler just wasn’t working properly.  My breathing was not only labored it was sometimes audible.

IGIF shot bob by TV was the founder; owner and CEO of the Aronson Partnership, Inc. a highly specialized communication consulting firm that helped executives communicate their messages in crises, media interviews, testimony and presentations.  It was going to be a long day because my last coaching session of the day would begin at 6 PM and end around 9. My staff left at 5 so I would be there alone with my client. Being a consultant doesn’t require a lot of physical activity so I thought I could make it through the evening and then use my nebulizer when I got home.  A nebulizer provides for a longer more effective dose of albuterol, the asthma fighting drug.

At 6 o’clock my client arrived.  She was a well-known professional spokesperson jojo cartoon flyerfor a syndicated home improvement TV show and had hired me to help refine her on camera skills.  My studio was equipped like a TV studio with lights, cameras, microphones TV monitors — everything necessary to simulate the real thing. As we worked I stayed seated, unusual for me because I am usually an energetic person who moves around the room to keep my client engaged.  I knew, though, that if I got up the session would be over because my breathing was becoming more labored.  I struggled through three hours and finally my client left pleased with the session. parking ramp 3

Normally I would straighten up the studio before I left.  Not this night.  I turned out the lights, grabbed my briefcase, locked the door and took the elevator down six floors to the parking ramp. I had a breakfast meeting with a client that day and arrived at the office late.  The ramp was almost full so I had to park at the far end which was at least a block from the door of the building.

When I exited the elevator and entered the ramp I was in a very bad way.  I was struggling for every breath and my legs felt like rubber. Repeatedly I tried to use the inhaler but to no avail.  It gave me no relief…very unusual.  Stumbling my way to the car through the deserted ramp I was stopping about every ten feet to lean on a post, another car, anything that would support my weight for just a few seconds.  Had anyone else been in that ramp that would have sworn I was drunk. I was so starved for oxygen that my vision was getting blurred.  I could see the outline of my car perhaps 50 yards away but it might as well have been on the moon.  I was beginning to believe I could not make it there and panic began to set in.  Panic made my breathing even more labored. Half way through the ramp my legs buckled under me, I dropped the man on all fours 2briefcase and fell to my hands and knees. I remember thinking that I had not had an asthma attack this severe since I was a child.  I looked around — there was no one in the ramp and very few cars.

On all fours gasping for air I somehow managed to collect myself, pick up my bag and stand on wobbly legs.  Leaning on cars helped but there were few of them in the ramp, I kind of lurched from car to post to car. I don’t know how I did it, but I made it to the end of the ramp and my car — falling twice more on the way there.  The knees on my suit pants were a mess, one was torn and my hands were dirty, gritty and bloody from breaking my fall palms down on the concrete floor, somehow I had cut myself and I didn’t care..  My glasses were streaked with perspiration and more opaque than transparent. And…I was cold, bone chilling cold. Perspiration had soaked my clothing and chilled me even though it was a summer night.

I opened the door, sat, started the engine and despite being cold turned on the air condition thinking the cold air in my face might help.  Soaked with sweat, grimy and a  little bloody from three falls in the ramp I was still struggling to breathe so I loosened my necktie and just sat there trying to calm my nerves and catch my breath.  Because I was no longer exerting myself my breathing slowed a tiny bit but enough for me to believe I could make it.  The cold air from the AC unit felt good on my face and I sucked in as much as I could but it wasn’t nearly enough.  My heart was beating so fast it felt like it was trying to pound its way through my ribs to find freedom outside of my chest.

That’s when I remembered I had just purchased my first cellphone (they were pretty clunky by today’s standards and did nothing but make calls,)  I took it fromcell phone from last century my inside coat pocked but instead of dialing 911 I called home. When my wife answered I breathlessly told her I was having a serious asthma attack that I would pick her up and she could drive me to an ER.  In retrospect a dumb plan, but I really thought it was asthma.  Not once did I even consider that it could be something else so I knew I could make it.

That’s when I made my second stupid decision.  In my oxygen starved brain I determined that going to a nearby major medical center would be a wrong move because their ER was always very busy and the wait would be a long one.   Emergency roomInstead, I asked my wife to drive me to a small rural hospital in Hastings, She objected saying I’d be better off at United in St. Paul but I countered with the fact that the Hastings ER would not be jammed like a bigger hospital. I was right. There was not a single patient there when we arrived.  She was right, too, Hastings was the wrong place for me.

By the time we got to the Hastings ER I was turning blue and almost unable to breathe yet somehow summoned up the strength to walk in and make it to the admitting desk where I struggled to tell the nurse on duty, “I’m having a very bad asthma attack, my inhaler is not working.” I think I fell into the chair next to her. The nurse quickly took my vitals, listened to my heart and said, “I don’t think it is asthma,” and called for a crash cart.  There was a scramble as I was placed on a gurney, rushed to a room, wired, had an IV placed in my arm and was given a tablet of nitroglycerin to hold under my tongue. ECG leads were taped to my chest, someone shot something into the IV, and a Doctor appeared, giving orders.  I was nearly unconscious and confused not knowing what was happening I just kept thinking, “What’s wrong with these people, all they have to do is give me a shot of adrenalin and I’ll be fine.”  The nitro made me sick to my stomach but my breathing was easing. United hospital st. paul

Then the Doctor spoke up, “Mr. Aronson, it’s not asthma, it is your heart and we can’t handle you here.   We’re sending you by ambulance to United Hospital in St. Paul (United was a major heart center and the hospital I chose not to go to in the first place). By now I was stabilized and almost breathing normally but the ambulance wasted no time and made the 20 or so miles from Hastings to St. Paul, Minnesota in about fifteen minutes with the aid of the siren and flashing lights.  I told the attendants I felt fine and they should just take me home but they were having none of it and brought me straight to the hospital where we were met by a medical team that rushed me to cardiac intensive care.    That’s when the excitement, the drugs and exhaustion caught up with me and I lost consciousness.

When I awakened I was surrounded by people who wereecho 2 setting up some equipment.  “We are going to do an echogram, Mr. Aronson, and that will tell us how well your heart is functioning so please lie on your left side.”  I did and the operator of the machine got on my right side, reached over with what looked like one of those mortar things that pharmacists use and placed it on my chest.  It had some kind of cold wet clear goo on it and as he moved it over my chest I could hear my heart on the monitor going “squish boom boom, squish boom boom.”  echo screen 2The monitor was in front of me so I could see what the operator saw. The difference was that he knew what he was seeing, it meant nothing to me.  Again, though, exhaustion set in.  Each of my eyelids felt as though they weighed twenty pounds.  I could not stay awake and drifted off only to awaken to the sound of the echo machine being wheeled out of the room about twenty minutes later.  As the operators were leaving I thought I caught a glimpse of my wife and some family members but again fell into a very deep sleep.

It was morning when I began my return to the conscious world and for a while I was confused, I didn’t know where I was until I heard the voice of my daughter Hank.  “Hi daddy, we are all here with you.”  For just a minute I didn’t know where “here” was or why they were all there.  Then I heard the beeping of a monitor, saw the IV drip, felt the oxygen tubes in my nose and saw the nurse reading my blood pressure.  I got the idea that the situation was not a good one.  Families don’t gather first thing in the morning in a hospital room unless you are in dire straits.

I looked around and saw my wife, two daughters and their husbands, my son and his wife and several medical people.  My usually jovial family looked very somber. “All of this, I thought, for asthma?” forgetting about the echogram and what the doctor in Hastings had said just a few hours earlier.  Just then a very distinguished gentleman walked in.  Dressed like a model from Gentleman’s Quarterly, he was relatively young but had white hair and spoke softly but firmly. “Mr. Aronson,” he said. “My name is Dr. Thomas Johnson and I’m a cardiologist.  You have a very serious heart problem.  It’s called cardiomyopathy which means your heart muscle is failing and you may need a heart transplant.”

“Boy,” I thought, “that’s laying it on the line.”  I felt as though I had just had a nuclear weapon detonated in my gut.  But strong men don’t show weakness in front of their family.  I noticed that my youngest daughter was crying and everyone else was silent.  “Ok, I said, if that’s what it takes let’s do it.”  I had a passing acquaintance with organ transplants but really had no idea how complex the process was or how difficult it was to get a heart, plus I had to put on a brave face for my family.

While my mind was racing Dr. Johnson began to explain my condition.  His style was firm but calming and compassionate.  He explained that while they would do further testing he was certain that I suffered from cardiomyopathy which is a very fancy term for heart failure.  He pointed out that I would likely be able to get out of the hospital in a few days and go back to work but that my energy level would not be the same. He also said that while I would likely not need a heart transplant right away it was inevitable that I would need one at some point.  He said he had scheduled a stress test for later that afternoon.  I thought the whole situation was a stress test and that this must be a bad dream. Someone brought in a tray of something that resembled food but I wasn’t hungry just very, very tired and I drifted off again after telling my family to go home and come back later. It was obvious then that I was in no immediate danger at least not anymore. cardiac stress test

“Mr. Aronson,” the voice said, “Mr. Aronson, it’s time for your stress test.”  Again feeling dazed and almost hung over I awakened and was helped up so I could sit on the side of the bed.  I was given a fresh gown and robe to put on and helped into a wheelchair.  A friendly and talkative male nurse pushed me through a series of hallways to the stress test room.  It was tiny.  There was room only for a treadmill a table with a lot of electronic gear on it and a chair.  Dr. Johnson was already there and I was wired again with several of those sticky leads that rip the hair off your body when they remove them. I had no idea what a stress test was other than getting on a treadmill.  I found out quickly enough that it involved walking on the treadmill as the operator slowly increased the speed and the grade.  Dr. Johnson was there carefully watching me and the monitor.  The speed and grade changed every couple of minutes and by the time I reached 8 minutes I could go no longer, my legs were rubber, my lungs were about to explode and my heart felt like it was going to hammer its way out of my body and then out of the room. I did not know that one could get so thoroughly exhausted in 8 minutes.

The stress test was just one of a series of tests, labs and other evaluations that confirmed the initial diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy, cause unknown.  My heart was growing larger because it was not pumping enough blood out.  Dr. Johnson explained that my Ejection Fraction (EF) was between 20 and 25.  Here’s what that means.  Normally the heart pumps out about 60% of the blood it contains.  That’s the EF. My heart was only pumping out 25% so in order to contain the excess blood the heart had to grow but there’s a limit to the growth and to how long your other organs can survive when they are not getting enough blood. In a few days I was released from the hospital with a boatload of medication and strict diet orders. Sodium intake was limited to 1800 milligrams a day, liquid consumption was capped, I was told to lose weight (at 6’4” I weighed about 240 lbs. and have a large frame so I didn’t appear to be overweight) and exercise, lots of exercise.

I took it all very seriously and followed the diet and all the other restrictions and suggestions very carefully.  I dropped about 40 lbs. and with daily exercise got in the best condition of my life.  Each morning I would get up and do 75 stomach crunches, 100 pushups, walk the treadmill for a half hour, do about 40 curls with 20 lb. weights in each hand and then go to work. Actually I felt better than I had felt in a long time but I tired easily.  By 10 AM I would get sleepy but I’m a Type A personality and push myself so I kept up the same pace I had always been on. I was a consultant and traveled a great deal. At least once or twice a week I was running through airports to catch a plane or make a connection somewhere and for a while I did pretty well but I could feel myself slowing down.  I saw Dr. Johnson regularly and he kept adjusting my meds and re-testing me but it was not yet time to be listed for a heart transplant, I was not sick enough to qualify.

Then in 1996 we got the news that my wife, Avis, had lung cancer.  They found it in her legs which meant it had metastasized or had already spread from her lungs to other parts of her body.  The news was a devastating blow for the entire family and I simply forgot about my condition as I took her to the series of chemo and then radiation appointments.  The side effects were sheer hell and even expensive drugs like Zofran for nausea didn’t always work.  The treatments took place over several months and took a heavy toll on her.  Cancer is ugly but so are the treatments. 

Slowly, though, the combination of therapies started to have a positive effect.  Her hair grew back, the pain was gone and there was no sign of the cancer.  We all thought that maybe she had beaten it.

We were feeling good about Ave’s progress and I was still following all the instructions that had been given to me but my health was deteriorating, I could feel it.   My ejection fraction was about 20 and I was tired all the time.

Ave did quite well for about a year and then in October of 1998 she started complaining of pain again and tests made real our worst fears.  The cancer was back but far worse than it had been originally and there was no longer any treatment that would offer hope.  The disease had invaded not only her lungs but also her colon, legs and brain.  She entered United Hospital in St. Paul in Mid-October never to return home.  She passed away with her family around her on November 28 of 1998.

After the funeral I took time off to try to figure out my life.  35 years of marriage does not prepare you for living alone.  It was awful.  Staying home only made things worse.  My way of dealing with the loss was work.  I spent more time than ever at the office and on the road.  I traveled even more than I had in the past.

Finally, exhausted, I decided I quirinale interiorneeded a rest away from phones, clients, employees and everyone else.  In May of 1999 I  booked a flight to Rome, Italy to see my friends Ron and Carla Marinelli.  They arranged for me to stay at the lovely old Hotel Quiranale on the via Nacionale.  The rest, the food, the surroundings did wonders for my mental health. Each morning I would arise, go to the breakfast restaurant and quirnale breakfasthave a cappuccino, some biscotti, melon and a little bit of prosciutto (Italian ham and definitely not on my heart diet).  After a couple of days the waiter didn’t ‘even ask me what I wanted, he saw me come in said, “Buon Giorno” and brought what I just described.

The visit with Ron and Carla was magnificent.  Ron was the man who hired me for my first job as a radio announcer in 1960 in Hibbing, Minnesota.  He later married Carla, an Italian national, and moved to Rome where he taught English as a second language to Italian military officers. One day Ron and Carla decided we should take a trip.  It was a lovely surprise, too.  They sassoferrato, Italywould take me to Sassoferrato to the North East of Rome in the mountains of the province of Ancona about half way to the Adriatic Sea.

The trip was significant because Sassoferrato is the town in which my grandmother and grandfather on my mother’s side were born and from which the emigrated in the early 20th century.  I won’t go into detail but to stand near the sulfur mine where my grandfather worked and to walk the roads where my grandmother delivered the mail stirred my emotions in a special way.  But all of this is another story for another time.

I left Italy feeling good and arrived in the U.S.  ready for work and threw myself into it like never before almost forgetting that I had a very serious heart disease. It was about then that I met Robin Diffie.  She lived in Jacksonville, Florida a city I visited often because the Mayo Clinic there was one of my clients.  We hit it off immediately and in August of 2000 were married in my home in Eagan, Minnesota, a St. Paul suburb.

It had now been five years since my diagnosis and while my ejection fraction had not changed I was noticeably tired more often. byerlysAbout a year later I was driving to visit a client that had an office in a shopping center across town and got hungry so I stopped at a supermarket and got a deli sandwich that came close to my dietary requirements.  I sat in the car and ate it then, with seat belt off drove around the corner to my client’s office.

As I entered the parking lot I slowed to about 5 or 6 miles an hour to pull into a business center parking lotparking place when suddenly everything turned the brightest white I’ve ever seen…cars in the lot next to me danced in the light and I felt really good but sleepy.  I know not how much later it was that I awakened but I was slumped over the steering wheel and the car was up against a tree.  I awoke with a terrible headache and my balance and speech were not quite right.  Somehow I made my way into the client’s office and told them I had fainted.  The client was a medical company and they told me to stay seated and called Robin who came to get me and took me to the hospital.

At the emergency room a cardiologist examined me and said, “You need to have a defibrillator implanted, it appears as though you may have suffered sudden cardiac arrest and running into that tree may have jarred you enough to save you, it was a good thing you weren’t wearing your seat belt.

I said, “Ok doc let me check my calendar and I’ll see when we can schedule the defibrillator.”

He chuckled, “No,” he said, “We need to do that right now, you could have another attack any time and the defibrillator could save your life.” defib icdNeedless to say, we were in surgery within the hour and the Medtronic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) was implanted.  It was a little smaller than a hockey puck and was just to the right of my left shoulder.  You could hardly tell there was anything there.  The bad news was that my heart condition was changing and not for the better.  This new development was not good.  And..if in fact I did have cardiac arrest when I hit that tree I was extremely fortunate because only about 5 percent of cardiac arrest victims survive.  It is unpredictable and there is really no way to diagnose it.  About 350,000 people die every year due to sudden cardiac arrest.  Those who survive usually do so because of a defibrillator.  Either the implanted variety or the kind you find hanging on walls in public buildings.

By 2003, eight years after my diagnosis I was on a drug called Amiodarone which is used to correct abnormal heart rhythms. The medication is prescribed only for people with serious heart problems. It is a powerful and effective drug but also one with many side effects some of which are potentially fatal.  One of the side effects and the one that most affected me was weight gain because Amiodarone can have a very negative affect on the Thyroid gland.  For me the result was ballooning up to nearly 250 pounds despite my making every conceivable effort to stop it.   For the first time in my life I was buying pants with a 40 inch waste and had developed a belly that hung over my belt.  I took to wearing suspenders to keep my pants up.   I didn’t like the way I looked and I couldn’t do a thing about it.

It was summer and I had just showered and shaved and was getting dressed for work when I felt as though a mule or a horse had kicked me in the chest.  The impact sent me to my knees in the bathroom and at first I didn’t know what happened. Slowly it occurred to me that my defibrillator had just gone off.  That means the rhythm of my heart was also off so I called 911 and explained what happened.  The voice on the other end said, “So what would you like us to do?”

I responded, “I don’t know, I thought you could tell me what to do.”

She said, “Often patients do nothing and sometimes we take them to the hospital.  Would you like an ambulance?”

“I guess,” I said.  Not really sure what to do but still unsteady on my feet as a result of the shock. The ambulance was there in a flash and I walked out the front door of our town home.

Tambulanche attendants made me lie down on the gurney and carted me into the back of the big Red and White vehicle where they wired me with the electrocardiogram and started an I V.  I heard the paramedic on the radio saying something about atrial fibrillation and they turned on the lights and siren.  Déjà vu all over again as we raced for United Hospital in St. Paul.

Robin had been out when I was shocked by the ICD but I called her immediately and she met us at United. More tests and finally the same Doc that placed the ICD in my chest came in to say that I needed a new and different one.  Mine had two leads and they wanted to put one in that had three leads but that meant the procedure was a little trickier because one lead had to go behind my heart.  He said they would do the procedure the next day but that he was going to Greece on a vacation and one of his highly skilled colleagues would do it.

They wheeled me away in the morning for a routine procedure that almost killed me.  In order to place the ICD and connect it they have to stop your heart for a while and then start it again.  Well, they had trouble with the third lead; they couldn’t get it in no matter what they tried so they gave up on it and decided to try again on another day.  Now they had to restart my heart — again and again they tried the paddles but it wasn’t until 6th or 7th attempt that the damaged organ began to beat.  Now there was a new concern because a long time had elapsed and there was fear of brain damage.

Robin tells me that when I awakened I was babbling.  What I was saying made no sense and I stayed that way for a while.  The hospital sent a neurologist in to see if I had suffered brain damage in the aborted attempt to place the third lead of the ICD.  By the time he got there I was doing a little better so the questioning began.  Who are you?  Where were you born? What month is it?  Robin said she thought I was doing pretty well.  Then the Doctor asked who the President of the United States was and I said, “George W. Bush the SOB.”  I don’t remember saying that but Robin said she knew then I was OK. That episode, though, was not the end of the saga.

The third lead still needed to be connected and I couldn’t leave the hospital until it was.  They said I could rest for a day or two and the would try again.  They did in the following week and this time with a different doctor but the same result.  They could not attach the third lead and again had trouble reviving me. I told the medical team that there would be no more attempts until my Dr. returned from his vacation and no one argued the point.  Finally when he returned he was amazed to find me still in the hospital.  It had been almost three weeks.  The next day we went back to surgery and this time at the hands of the master it worked flawlessly and I was released.

All of this had taken a toll. I was still working as a consultant but had to change my style.  When I trained or coached people for various communication situations or when I made a presentation on communication I was animated, energetic, walked around a lot, invaded people’s space and did a good job of getting and keeping people’s attention.  I could no longer do that.  Moving about left me exhausted. For a while I tried to walk around, sit a little and then walk around again but I finally had to give in and do my presentations sitting and I always explained to my audience why I was sitting.

mayo rochesterFor about 25 years the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota had been my client, at least once a week I traveled from the twin cities to Rochester to work with Mayo physicians or executives and when I did I’d stay at a Hotel about a block from the studio they had set up for me.  I found that I could no longer walk the block without stopping several times to rest and I knew the end of my career was near.  That’s when Robin and I decided to move back to her hometown of Jacksonville because there was a Mayo Clinic there also and they had an excellent record of getting organs. Reluctantly I told my long-time client Mayo that I had to retire, that I could no longer take the physical strain of doing the work and I recommended another consultant.

Then came the task of selling our Eagan, Minnesota town home.  It was 2006 just the beginning of the real estate market bubble burst.  We purchased a home in Jacksonville thinking our very nice town home would sell quickly. It didn’t.  It took ten months to sell it after we had dropped the price several times.  Needless to say we took a bath on that sale.

The next step was to go through the transplant evaluation process at mayo jacksonvilleMayo in Jacksonville..  There was a battery of tests over a period of several days but the outcome was never in doubt. By now my ejection fraction was around 10 I could not walk from our family room to the bathroom which is about 25 feet without stopping to rest.  It was clear to me and to my docs that I was in end stage cardiomyopathy.  I was dying and there was nothing that could be done short of a heart transplant. “Ain’t gonna happen,” I told myself. “I am 68 years old and not hospitalized, there’s no way I get a heart.  Certainly if there is one available it will go to a much younger and sicker person.”  I had pretty much given up hope.  The Mayo clinic hadn’t and neither had Robin. Dr. Hosenpud, my transplant cardiologist at Mayo took my case before the transplant committee and I was approved for listing.  I gave it no further thought.  Although I was convinced that I would not get a heart I said nothing to Robin or my family.  I’ve always prided myself on being very logical and the logic said I would not get a heart.  Well, Mr. Spock, the logic was wrong.

It was thirteen days after being listed when the phone rang.  Here’s the play by play. Tuesday August 21, 2007 noon.  My home phone rings, “Hello.” “May I speak with Robert Aronson please?”

“Speaking.”

“This is Dr. Hosenpud from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.  We may have a heart for you.”

Silence, confusion, “Did you say you may have a heart for me?”

“Yes,” pack a bag with some essentials and come to the clinic in the next couple of hours, I’ll see you then.” Click.

I hollered for Robin who was in the next room.  “I struggled to hold back tears when I said, “Dr. Hosenpud called, and they may have a heart for me.” I have always taken pride in being able to be cool under fire.  I don’t panic, I logically work things out.  Not today.  I think I packed a tennis shoe a sandal a toothbrush a comb and some mouthwash….nothing that made any sense.

I thought I was supposed to rush to the hospital even though Dr. Hosenpud did not say I should.  So we raced to the car and made record time. I had visions of pandemonium when I got there.  I thought I would say, “I’m here for a heart transplant” and all hell would break loose.  I thought there would be people running around, bringing out a gurney for me…tearing my shirt off and rushing me into surgery…Hah! None of that happened.

Here’s reality. mayo receptionMe at reception desk in hospital, “Hi I’m Bob Aronson and Dr. Hosenpud just called to tell me there might be a heart for me and I’m here for a transplant……”  I fired words out like a machine gun my eyes darting here and there and everywhere, my voice shaking.
Receptionist.  “Your name again?” I told her. Click, click, click (computer keys)

“Ok here you are Mr. Aronson.  Have a seat and someone will be out to get you in a little while.”

We sat.  There was no pandemonium.  There was no movement of any kind.  No one seemed to care that the all-important Bob Aronson was here for a heart transplant We waited for maybe a half hour when finally I was called to go back to a room to answer some questions, change into a hospital gown and begin the preparation process.  I was still amazed that no one was excited about what was happening, they were all so calm and just went about doing their jobs.  I wanted pandemonium, I deserved pandemonium, the situation called for pandemonium…but it never happened.  I guess I’ve seen too many movies.

Robin accompanied me to what I called the “Staging” area, that’s where everyone buzzes around you each with a special job, all of them pleasant and very formal.  Mayo has it so ingrained in their system to refer to people by their title (Mr.) I quit trying to get them to call me Bob for fear they might choke.

With the IV line in and working we talked for a while with the people in the room and finally someone said, “It’s time.”  A syringe appeared out of thin air and the needle was inserted into my IV, “Just a little something to relax you,” the voice said and I was in la la land in a split second.

I was tied tightly and they were coming to interrogate me again.  They thought they were being quiet but I could hear them coming, “No, no please not anymore, please don’t cut me up for parts anymore,” I begged as they tugged at my arm.

“Mr. Aronson, are you awake, we are doctors and we are here to remove your dressing,” was what I heard when I awakened from my dream where I was being held captive while my organs were removed. In my haze I vaguely remember some doctors coming to intensive care and ripping off the dressing that covered my chest.  It sounded to me like they had torn a 50 foot sheet of canvas in half.  I felt nothing but I’ll never forget that sound then.

“Are you in any pain Mr. Aronson if so give me a number between 0 and 10…ten being the worst.”  I must have picked the right number because I was out again. robin

While all this was happening Robin and her sister April were sitting in the surgical waiting room.  april diffie guittar croppedIt was August 21st which is also April’s birthday and instead of spending it celebrating she chose to sit with Robin praying for my recovery.  Robin and April are people who gain great satisfaction from giving and in helping others.  These sisters, like their parents are generous and considerate to a fault. T

The next time I awoke I was more alert and Robin was holding my hand and saying, “It’s OK, you are fine and you have a new heart.

I felt a great sense of relief, like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I was thirsty, so incredibly thirsty.  I asked for water and a nurse brought me ice chips. I sucked on those for a while and then fell asleep again.  I don’t know what time it was when I once again blinked myself into being awake but Robin was gone and it was just me, a bunch of beeping, flashing machines and a nurse.

“Water,” I feebly said.

“Not yet,” she said with what sounded like attitude. I was so dry my lips were stuck together, my tongue felt a foot thick, my throat was parched and I was almost without a voice because of the tube that had been down my throat.

“Please,” I’m so thirsty.

glass of ice chipsI’m sorry sir you can only have ice chips once an hour.”

“It’s time for once” I said may I please have the ice chips now?”

“In ten minutes,” she said.  At that moment that nurse became the “Ice Nazi.”  I remember watching the clock waiting for the next hour so I could get more ice chips but despite my impassioned pleas, appeals to fairness and kindness and outright sycophantic flattery she never budged a second.  I got my ice chips exactly on the hour not a split second sooner or later and….I lived.

Once released from the hospital I entered cardiac rehab where I met a strange mixture of people.  I quickly found that while all of us had transplants in common some were more committed than others.  One man whom I shall never understand just refused to comply.  He wouldn’t follow the diet or the exercise regimen.  He was very nice but just wouldn’t comply despite being alternately cajoled and chewed out by both physicians and nurses.  I don’t know what happened to him but his survival chances weren’t good. Conversely there were some there who so desperately wanted to live they would have doubled their effort if asked.  I was one of the very oldest people in the rehab program at the time and decided that the older you get the more you realize the value of life and the harder you are willing to work to stay alive.

Lee AaseI hadn’t been out of rehab for but a few weeks when a friend and former Mayo Client Lee Aase called me.  Lee is the social media guru for the Mayo Clinic (the whole system).  He is a 6’5” blond Scandinavian with a winning smile and attitude.  Lee could gain the confidence of almost anyone in a matter of seconds based on personality alone. And…he is one of the brightest communications professionals I know.

Because of my age my recovery from the heart transplant was slow. My body just didn’t want to regain its strength but I could still think and I could still type and the internet kept me connected to the goings-on in the world.  When Lee called me at the end of October 2007 to suggest I get involved in the social media on behalf of organ donation I had no idea what he was talking about.  When he mentioned Facebook and WordPress I had not heard of either of them.  I was somewhat familiar with blogs but had never written one and had read only a few. What rang my bell was when Lee said I could use these forums to promote organ donation.  I knew I wanted to try to pay back the gift of life that was given to me by a stranger but I had no idea how I would do it.  Lee just opened that door.  He took a great deal of time on several occasions on the phone to “Train” me in the use of social media.  He helped me set up the Facebook group and my WordPress blog and it was Lee Aase who came up with the name, “Bob’s Newheart.”  And so it was on November 3rd 2007 that Organ Transplant Initiative and Bob’s Newheart were born.

It was also on or near that date that I began to suffer extreme pain for reasons unknown.  Some of it may have been the result of the position the surgeons placed my left arm so they would have better access to my heart.  Whatever the cause the pain was extreme and it was spreading and debilitating. Both shoulders were affected as was my neck and lower back.  Sometimes the pain was so great I sat in my recliner and cried.  Even powerful painkillers only dulled it..it never went away.  Specialists gave me injections in both shoulders which helped.  Later it was determined I had torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders but not how I got them.  The pain seemed endless and in fact lasted for over a year.  Oxycodone helped but did not kill the pain completely. In the meantime I would get up early in the morning and take a pain pill so I could tend to the Facebook group and the blog.  It was only early in the morning that I could produce anything that made sense.

As the day went on the pain grew and I was unable to think never mind write anything worthwhile.  I could not drive because of the pain and often because of the pain pills I would forget to set up my meds for the week. The narcotics, I believe, also caused me to forget to eat so not only was I not following the suggested diet I wasn’t following any diet Robin had her hands full.  She had two businesses that she started and was running out of our house and she had me to take care of.  She drove me to medical appointments, took care of my needs at home, reminded me to set up meds and renew prescriptions and made sure I ate, even though I didn’t want to.

The biggest challenge for both of us was that I was becoming increasingly more depressed.  Because of the pain I slept in my recliner in the family room at the depreessionback of the house.  The comfortable leather chair was in a corner of the room that was naturally dark – a great place to be depressed.  When I awakened each morning I would leave the lights off …sometimes I would shower, often not.  I didn’t care about anything.  I would sit for hours with the TV on but never look at it.  It created flickering shadows in the room but no light.  Usually I had the volume turned down so it was just white noise.  I was crabby, uncommunicative, looked like a homeless, deranged old man and didn’t care and yet I continued with Facebook and WordPress for at least an hour each morning.  It was the only thing I felt I had an obligation to do each day.

One day, though, something clicked, I think it was guilt. Somewhere in the dark reaches of my mind I knew I was being unfair to Robin and I loved her too much to put our relationship at further risk so I called Mayo and asked for psychiatric help.  It was almost two years after my transplant before we found the right combination of medications and then one day even though the sun didn’t come up (it was hidden by clouds)…it did.  I felt something stir — a twinge of optimism of ambition a feeling that life might be worth living after all –.and each succeeding day got a little bit better. The pain diminished, I began sleeping in bed again and best of all began looking toward the future and participating in family life. The anti-depressants I was taking changed my mood completely.  I started doing the grocery shopping, some light housework and best of all Robin had asked me to make some fixtures for her art show booth and I was doing woodwork…one of my great loves.

As time when on my assignments in the woodworking shop became more interesting and challenging.  Whenever Robin needed a shelf, a display case, an ear ring display frame or box or lazy susan I would make it and I found it most enjoyable.  Then we decided to try Jewelry boxes and I found a new artistic niche for myself.  Soon I found myself busier than I ever imagined I would or even could be.  I was up and around and using both my head and my hands to be productive and in the process was helping Robin.  After all she had done for me it was the least I could to help her and it felt good to do it.

So here we are at 2013 and this is my 200th blog. I’ve written and posted on subjects ranging from anorexia to Xenotransplantation.  Our blogs have become internationally famous and respected.  Bobs Newheart is a leading source for transplant and donor information in the world.  We are now averaging nearly 4,000 readers a month. Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) recently got its 3000th member and we grow larger every day … no small achievement when there are scores of transplant groups on the internet.  Size is important if we are to be an effective advocacy group.  Decision makers listen when large groups of people speak up.  The bigger we get, the more the people who make life and death decisions will listen.

I am not a particularly religious person but I am positive that my life was saved so I could help to save or at least comfort those who languish on the transplant list.  I have committed to my unknown donor and to all who join OTI and read my blogs that I will do whatever I can to get more organ donors, promote and support further scientific and technological research into alternatives to organ donation and to provide information that people need to make good sound medical decisions.  I will not quit until this new heart I have stops beating and then I’m hoping others will pick up what I started and make it even better.

That’s my story.  It isn’t much different I’m sure from thousands of other transplant recipients who underwent some tough times but overcame them.  We all have a thousand thank you notes to send primarily to our donors and donor families but also to medical team that retrieved then implanted a new heart or other organ, the nurses and doctors who took care of us In the hospital, for continuing care and of course our caregivers…what on earth would we ever do without them?

In my case my thanks go to my unknown donor and his family, my wonderful loving wife Robin, my  kids and Robin’s, our grandchildren and great grandchildren my brother and sister and cousins, the Diffie family, Mayo Doctors Hosenpud, Yip and Patel and  coordinator Stephanie Orum and all my Facebook and WordPress friends.

The mission of Organ Transplant Initiative is to work to ensure than anyone who needs an organ/tissue transplant can get one.  Some say that’s an impossible dream.  I say nothing is impossible.

Bob Aronson

The song Impossible Dream from Man of LaMancha seems fitting in many ways but more than anything else it speaks directly to the OTI Mission.

To dream … the impossible dream …

To fight … the unbeatable foe …

To bear … with unbearable sorrow …

To run … where the brave dare not go …

To right … the unrightable wrong …

To love … pure and chaste from afar …

To try … when your arms are too weary …

To reach … the unreachable star …

This is my quest, to follow that star …

No matter how hopeless, no matter how far …

To fight for the right, without question or pause …

To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause …

This blog is dedicated to my unknown donor and to all those who are awaiting transplants all over the world.

My Alcoholism — Avoid it, Live Longer. A True Story.


While I have written a considerable amount about alcohol and drug addiction (search this blog site and you’ll find several posts on addiction and chemical dependency)  I have written very little about my experience with them.  I chose not to write about myself because it is too easy to sound overly dramatic or like a Carrie Nation reformer and I am not anti-alcohol. We have it in our home, wine, beer and I think there’s some rum somewhere, too.

I am one of the fortunate drunks.  I went into treatment on July 17, 1982 and have not had any alcohol since but it’s been a battle.  I had a heart transplant in 2007.  There’s no way of telling if my alcoholism contributed to my heart problems but it sure is possible.  Here is some of my story.

Being an alcoholic or any kind of addict is to live a life of dishonesty, insincerity and betrayal.   My comments here apply to my alcoholism so that’s the addiction upon which I will concentrate but, all addictions bear similar traits.  The addict will let nothing get between him and his bottle.  He will betray anyone including his spouse and children to satisfy the insane craving for alcohol.  The more you drink the more you will lie, cheat and steal to satisfy your body’s demands.  The drug steals all of your will power, your self-control and your self-respect and makes you its slave.   It is like your body is holding a gun to your brain saying, “Do what I say or I will kill both of us.”  

The very first step In the 12 step Alcoholics Anonymous program is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.”   Powerless and unmanageable aptly describe an addiction like alcoholism.  Powerless and unmanageable two words that when finally adopted and spoken out loud can set you free but oh how long it takes to get there.

Everything written here (except those words I identify as coming from someone else or from another source) is true and based on my real life experience as a practicing SOB drunk.  Pay close attention because this could be you or someone you know.

I always drank too much.  Even before I was old enough to drink if my teen friends and I could get some beer, wine or anything else I never knew when to quit. I drank until I passed out. I could not drink one beer, one glass of wine or one martini. As the saying goes, “One is too many and a thousand is not enough.”  I know from experience that the worse your habit becomes the more aware you are that you are addicted and it eats at your conscience like battery acid on bare skin.  I cannot begin to describe the psychological torture the addict experiences. 

The guilt gnaws away at your self- esteem causing  emotional pain that goes beyond intense…there’s not a word to describe it and that pain forces you to drink even more in order to assuage the  hell your life has become.  No one…absolutely no one would choose to live like this.   Your life becomes totally unmanageable and you have no control on where the desire for alcohol will lead you.  To those of you who say, “Just quit…you made the choice to drink, you can make the choice to stop.”  Oh how I wish that was true. 

Yes, I made the choice to drink and that was the end of my ability to make sound choices about anything.  No amount of will power or determination can end this nonsensical sickness.  It takes an organized approach and a lot of people to end the insanity and slowly help you get back on the road to respectability.  Having lived this life…and believe me when I say I have spared you the really gory details, I know without a doubt that this God awful affliction is a disease as surely as cancer is one and if you think for a minute that you can just stop the cycle yourself, you are living in a fantasy world.  Read on, maybe, just maybe you will learn something.  

Addiction is horrible.  It is beyond description because no one in their right mind would choose to live that way.  You will lie, cheat, steal and betray your best friends, family and employer if any of them gets in the way of your bond with your bottle (whether it’s full of pills, heroin or booze). And….you will do it with righteous indignation because you will really believe there is nothing wrong with you but that everyone is against you.  None of what you do will weigh on your conscience until you sober up and that’s when your conscience goes to work on you like a slave master with a whip.  There are no welts or sores on your body as a result of the whipping, they are on your soul and they never go away. Finally, you can’t handle the guilt any longer and you seek out your best friend that wonderful container that sports a label saying, ”90 proof. Drink in moderation” 

 A drunk is a drunk is a drunk.  The stereotype is the bewhiskered, dirty guy sitting in the doorway of an abandoned building holding a brown paper bag with the tip of a bottle just visible over the top of the paper. He probably smells bad, hasn’t eaten a solid meal in days and has slept in his own vomit  and sometimes his own excrement (I’m using a man as an example but alcoholism and narcotics addiction are no respecter of gender).

I was a drunk for a very long time and never knew anyone like the person I just described.  To be truthful I used that image to prove to myself that I was not a drunk.  I wore an expensive suit every day, had a new car, a nice home and a great job. People liked and respected me and I was what most would call successful.  To look at me no one would ever suspect I had any problems never mind an uncontrollable addiction and a mean streak a mile wide.

Here’s what my admiring friends and associates didn’t see.  They didn’t see me after hours where I would purposely pick a fight with my wife so I could leave in a huff to buy booze.  They didn’t see me return home a while later after having consumed a pint of 90 proof vodka, stumbling into the house, cursing, pushing people out of the way to get to my basement hideaway where I would drink the rest of the evening, fall asleep in the chair and often awaken in my own vomit.  Sometimes I awakened on the bathroom floor, not knowing how I got there or even whose bathroom I was in.

People didn’t see me when the alarm went off and I had to get ready to go to work so sick I prayed I would die.  A hangover, you see, is nothing more than heavy duty withdrawal.  You know that there’s a very long and sharp knife buried in your skull and you know it has gone all the way through and someone keeps twisting it.

Your stomach is on fire and you keep vomiting but there’s nothing left to vomit….not even stomach acid..   The pores of your skin smell of whatever beverage you were drinking and your clothes (that you slept in) are wrinkled, dirty and stink.  At some point in the night you had urinated but without the benefit of being in a bathroom.  And yet despite feeling as though you had been hit by a bus and contracted food poisoning at the same time, responsibility calls.  You have to go to work and there’s only one way to feel human again you take what my dad (also an alcoholic) called a “Bump.”  A long hard gulp of 90 proof booze right out of the bottle.  In most cases it was an almost instantaneous fix.  I could go from looking like a tribe of vampires had been sucking the blood from my body for a week to a resembling respectable businessman within minutes.  That doesn’t mean I felt good or that my mind was clear…it only meant that alcohol was working to delay the inevitable hangover.

All it took to make me presentable and give me the ability to appear normal was a shower, a shave, a good haircut, a starched white shirt, a tie with some red in it, a freshly pressed suit, shined shoes and some mouthwash and I was in charge again.  Little did anyone know that the double wide briefcase I carried was not because I was so conscientious I took home heavy workloads.  No…I carried that briefcase because it would hold a quart size bottle.  The bottle, when finally drained of its last drop of poison would be quietly and secretly placed in someone else’ waste basket far from my office.  You can’t leave any evidence around you know.  Better to make someone else look like a drunk than expose yourself.

Being a drunk takes a certain amount of planning but sometimes making a good plan while in an alcoholic fog is impossible.  A plan is necessary so you don’t run out of booze.  I didn’t hang out at bars much, I drank at home for the most part but it wouldn’t make any difference.  Neither bars nor liquor stores are open 24/7/365.  You always had to be sure you had enough alcohol to take you through the night and the weekend.  I don’t know about other states but in Minnesota you could not buy booze on Sunday.  I would have to make sure I had enough on Saturday to carry me through.  Sometimes, though, I miscalculated and ran out.  That’s when you attack the cooking sherry and even mouthwash. 

If you are as addicted as I was you know where all the liquor stores are; their hours and exactly where your choice of poison is in the store so you can walk right to it.. It was not unusual for me to be waiting at a liquor store for someone to show up tp sell me a bottle. You also make sure you don’t go to the same store too often…can’t have them thinking you are an alcoholic now, can you? 

You might read all of this and say, “With all of those shenanigans you must have known you were a drunk.”  Well, kind of.  I knew I drank too much but I was functioning, I was working, I was producing, I was getting paid and no one was confronting me about my drinking so I made the assumption that everything was fine. 

Somehow drunks attract drunks.  I didn’t think my drinking habits were strange because the guys I hung out with drank as much as I did.  Here’s an example.  Back in the 70’s when I was a Press Secretary, there was a very nice restaurant on University Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota called the Blue Horse.  We would go there for lunch often and here’s what we had; a double extra dry (meaning forget the vermouth) vodka martini on the rocks with two olives (gotta get your veggies you know) before lunch; a bottle of wine with lunch and a double Drambuie up in a snifter after lunch.  Now, when everyone you know and like drinks like that why would you think you had a serious drinking problem?

I am convinced that every alcoholic, no matter how heavy the denial, knows somewhere in the deep dark recesses of their mind that they have a very serious problem. Because of that haunting knowledge we get very good at hiding or disguising our problem.  For most of the time that I was an active alcoholic I was working as an on-air personality in radio and TV or as the Press Secretary and Director of Communications for a Minnesota Governor. Because no one ever approached me about my drinking  my warped logic suggested that I could continue to drink while on the job so I always had a bottle or two in my desk or briefcase.. 

While on the air I would struggle mightily to make sure I pronounced every word correctly, had the right inflection and didn’t slur any words.  Doing that took incredible concentration and commitment. 

While working on the air I was always the morning drive time guy (that’s prime time in radio).  I would hide my bottle at the bottom of the men’s room waste basket and cover it with paper towels.  When I needed a drink I would just head to the men’s room and being as I was the morning guy, there were very few others working.  My shift was 5 AM to 9 AM and by 9 AM my bottle was usually empty.

The men’s room wastebasket was just one hiding place.  I had many others…a sandpit a few blocks from my house, a secret panel in the basement wall, a spot over the furnace, a junk drawer in the garage and my trusty briefcase with the combination lock.

In this post I have described some of my behavior while alcoholism controlled my mind and body, I have not gone into detail about most of it and I made that decision for two reasons.  One is I can’t remember a great deal of what I did, and the other is that even after all these years what I can remember is still too painful to relate to anyone.  The guilt I bear and the pain I caused is barely manageable.  I fear to think what I might do should I dwell on any of it.  You’ll have to take my word for it that my behavior was not what you would expect from a normal human being. 

This blog is about real life addiction.  If you want more clinical information there are lots of resources like this one.. http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/info2/a/aa022697.htm

I believe addiction is a disease, as does the American Medical Association and several other Medical groups. In a 1992 JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) article, the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) published this definition for alcoholism:

“Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, mostly denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.”

If you do not believe it is a disease this post probably won’t convince you otherwise and that’s your choice.  I write about what I believe in and if people disagree they can say so in the space provided or start their own blog. 

If you are worried about your drinking habits or about someone else’ drinking habits I found this simple statement to be quite revealing, “If alcohol (or drugs) are causing you problems, you have an alcohol or drug problem.”  The same goes for food, gambling, sex or any other addictive behavior. 

If you are addicted you drink or use for effect, you can’t get the desired effect by having a drink an hour.  Furthermore, the kind of alcohol really doesn’t make any difference.  I preferred vodka and I have no idea why but I drank for effect so I bought cheap booze and drank right out of the bottle. Gulps, not sips.  That marvelous burning sensation as the alcohol went down your throat into your stomach was motivating because you knew that soon the pain would be gone and you could go back to being totally irresponsible and hate all of your tormenters (like wife, family, friends, co-workers…anyone at all).  By the time the alcohol hit your stomach, you were drunk and happy again as long as no one interfered with your drinking.  The wonderful, warm feeling was quickly replaced by every emotion a human can feel and in no precise order.  You hate, you love, you laugh and cry all at the same time all with no reason and none of it is real. You can go from insane laughter one minute to unheard of violence the next and think nothing of it.

A Russian national (they are known for their love of Vodka and their high rate of alcoholism) once told my wife that Vodka was a necessity.  “The first bottle,” he said, “Must be Absolut” After that who cares.”

It is rare that anyone who is addicted uses their substance of choice to get high, they use it to try to find a release or some respite from the misery they are feeling.  Most often people use to try to feel normal.  It has been said that your first drunk or narcotics hit is your first and last high.  The rest of your time as an addict is trying to get to that same place and you rarely if ever do.  Worse yet, it takes more and more of whatever you are using to have any effect at all. 

Alcohol destroys your organs.  Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly but it will destroy your organs and that means it will destroy you.  The problem is that alcohol can destroy your life but let you go on living so that you wish you were dead.  I prayed for death many times.

I’ve told this story in hopes that maybe one or two people will read it and get the help they need so that they don’t become a number on the list of people waiting for organ transplants.  If you know someone who needs help here is a list of resources for you to get more information. 

Want to take a test to see if you are an alcoholic?  You can do it privately at home and only you will know the results. 

The Michigan Alcoholism Screening test can be found, taken and scored here.  http://counsellingresource.com/lib/quizzes/drug-testing/alcohol-mast/

If you take the test and determine that you  need help a good starting point is the Substance Abuse and  Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Government (SAMHSA)  http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/links/

One of the most disturbing effects of alcohol abuse in particular is that it can result in fetal alcohol syndrome, permanently scarring children and can range from increased aggressiveness to a lifetime of brain damage.   http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Real-World-Health-Effects-Of-Drug-Abuse—Overview&id=486086

 

Alcoholism and withdrawal from it can be deadly.  According to WikiPedia 

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delirium_tremens) five percent of acute alcohol withdrawal cases progress to delirium tremens. Unlike the withdrawal syndrome associated with opiate addiction (generally), delirium tremens (and alcohol withdrawal in general) can be fatal. Mortality can be up to 35% if untreated; if treated early, death rates range from 5-15%.

 

If you want more comprehensive information visit the following sites.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) http://www.drugabuse.gov/NIDAHome.html, The Partnership for a Drug Free America (www.drugfree.org/) or your local treatment center.

 

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

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 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 video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

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.

 

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A LIVER TRANSPLANT TEAM


Most of us have little contact with our transplant teams.  We meet the surgeon and perhaps a coordinator but very few others and once the transplant surgery is over, we are generally turned over to other specialists to follow our recovery.

Transplant teams are in the life saving business and while it is a hectic life it can be intensely rewarding.  You might have wondered exactly what a transplant team does.  Well, there’s not enough space or time here to go into great detail but I found this account of one day in the life of a transplant team fascinating.  I hope you do, too.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A LIVER TRANSPLANT TEAM

BY MARY ANN LITTELL

http://www.umdnj.edu/umcweb/marketing_and_communications/publications/umdnj_magazine/spring-2012/034.html

At age 57, Morristown resident Dagoberto Alvarado looked much older, a result of the devastating illness he’d been battling. It left him pale and weak, vomiting and losing weight. In February he was diagnosed with advanced cirrhosis. His physician advised him to go straight to the liver transplant center at University Hospital (UH): “They will save your life.”

At UH, Alvarado was evaluated and put on the liver transplant list. On March 10, he received a new liver in a grueling 12-hour operation. The next morning, his wife was amazed to find him sitting up in his hospital bed, eating a light breakfast. “I couldn’t believe the transformation in my husband — in less than a day,” she said.

“There are only two liver transplant programs in New Jersey. We are the first and the largest,” says Baburao Koneru, MD, chief of liver transplant and hepatobiliary surgery at UH and professor of surgery at New Jersey Medical School (NJMS). He launched the program in 1989 and that year, 15 transplants were performed. Since then, Koneru and his team have transplanted more than 1,000 livers, currently averaging 45 to 50 transplants a year. One-quarter of these patients have liver cancer. Other major reasons for liver transplantation include hepatitis C, alcoholic cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis, Wilson’s disease and other serious disorders. The team also performs approximately 150 major liver operations annually.

The program is organized around a multidisciplinary team that includes surgeons, hepatologists, physician assistants, social workers, a psychiatrist with expertise in transplant issues, and financial coordinators to help navigate the maze of payment and reimbursement. Nurse coordinators (pre- and post-op) serve as the liaison between the transplant team and patients, overseeing the logistics of surgery and recovery.

A typical day with the medical/surgical team includes much more than surgery. This group is all about sharing knowledge and technical skills with residents, fellows, medical students, nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists and other hospital colleagues, on rounds and at weekly meetings and conferences. “There are many key players,” says Koneru. “Teamwork is what makes this program so successful.”

8:00 am

The day begins early with a radiology conference where the team evaluates the X-rays of many patients, identifying those who might benefit from a clinical trial or liver transplant. Patients are referred to the UH program from throughout the state. “We’re known for our excellent outcomes,” says Koneru.

9:45 am

Above left: Samanta and Koneru on rounds, which are attended by residents, medical students, social workers, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, dietitians and others. Above right: Koneru discusses patient histories with Michelle Wilkins, MD (left), NJMS’09, an intern at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; and UH hepatology fellow Eleazer Yousefzaden, MD.

11:45

The team checks on Dagoberto Alvarado, now three days post-transplant. Dramatically improved, he’ll soon be heading home. Patients can wait for months on the transplant list — or in the case of Alvarado, be fortunate enough to secure a liver within a few weeks. “He might not have made it otherwise,” says his wife. The length of time a patient spends on the waiting list depends on many factors, among them the severity of their illness and the availability of donated organs.

1:30 pm

NJMS students may take clinical electives in a variety of specialty areas, including hepatology. This offers opportunities for collaborative learning from those in other health professions. It’s also a chance for students to ‘try out’ a specialty and experience first-hand what it’s like to be an active member of a medical team. Left: Cynthia Quainoo, MD, transplant hepatology fellow, discusses patient management with Samanta.

2:05 pm

Above Left: Patient Jamie Feireria was admitted to UH with cirrhosis of the liver and a severe rash (a common complication of liver disease). “I gained 30 pounds in one month,” she says. The physicians order tests to find out why. Above Right: Arun Samanta, MD, is professor of medicine at NJMS and chief of hepatology and transplant medicine at UH. The UH liver unit accommodates patients who are potential transplant candidates; those who are listed for transplant and await a donor organ; and those with severe liver disease — for example, acute liver failure, metabolic liver disease, advanced liver disease complicated with acute kidney failure, or drug-induced liver injury — who require care but do not need a transplant.

2:35 pm

Patient Alita Cruz has hepatitis C and has been on the transplant list for four weeks. She was admitted to UH when a liver became available, but unfortunately, the organ wasn’t in transplantable condition. Her wait for a donor liver continues.
FRONT ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT : GEORGE MAZPULE, MD, SURGICAL RESIDENT; BABURAO KONERU,MD; ARUN SAMANTA, MD.

MIDDLE ROW: ELISABETE DASILVA, PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT; EDITH MENCHAVEZ, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR; MARIA DEALMEIDA, FINANCIAL COORDINATOR; VALERIE BROOKS, SECRETARY; HELEN EDUJARDIN, PROGRAM ADMINISTRATOR; MALIHA AHMAD, MD, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE; CONNIE MUNOZ, PATIENT NAVIGATOR/REFERRALS COORDINATOR; ESTHER CALADO-ALIGMAYO, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR; THOMAS LYNCH, MD, SURGICAL RESIDENT; MARLENE ANDRADE, MEDICAL ASSISTANT; FELMA IZAR, FINANCIAL COORDINATOR; ADITI PATEL, PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT; DOROTHY O’HARE, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR; MAUREEN HESTER, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR ;ELOISA LAUDATO-HUFALAR, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR; IONA MONTEIRO, MD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PEDIATRIC GASTROENTEROLOGY.

BACK ROW: GEOFFREY KOIZUMI, DATA SYSTEMS MANAGER; JACQUELINE O’BRYANT-TRAVIS, PROGRAM ASSISTANT; FONDA STEWART, MEDICAL ASSISTANT; LATONIA BALDWIN, MEDICAL ASSISTANT ;CARLO OPONT, PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT; ADRIAN FISHER, MD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR/TRANSPLANT SURGEON; AND DORIAN WILSON, MD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR/TRANSPLANT SURGEON.

3:20 pm

Transplanting an organ is not unlike staging a large, complex opera. There is so much drama — some of it life and death. The starring players — physicians, patients, nurses and myriad support staff — often face obstacles and conflict. There’s the quest for a ‘holy grail’— in this case, a healthy liver.

The group of people pictured above makes it happen at University Hospital. “Most patients are referred by their physicians, but some people find us by themselves,” says UH nurse coordinator Maureen Hester. “When they come here, they’re frightened. They expect to go on the transplant list right away, but it doesn’t work that way.”

Patients are first examined to determine whether they are transplant candidates. The workup includes evaluation by transplant hepatologists and surgeons, cardiologists, social workers and dietitians. A psychiatric workup includes support for patients and evaluation for drug and alcohol abuse – both primary factors in hepatitis C infection. Transplant candidates with alcohol or drug-related illness must agree to give up these substances completely. Their names will not go on the waiting list until they complete six months of sobriety.

Those who are accepted into the program go on a national waiting list until a liver becomes available. Statistical formulas are used to predict which patients’ are in the greatest need of a new liver and they are placed higher on the list. Patients’ placement on the list changes as their health status changes.

The wait for a liver can be days, weeks, or months. It’s part of the drama. When the call finally comes that a liver is available, the patient and the team are ready. And in the best-case scenario, there is a happy ending,

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 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 video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

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.

My Last Drunk The Beginning of a New Life.


My name is Bob Aronson.  I went to work every day wearing a suit.  I had been a popular radio and TV personality in another market, Press Secretary to a Minnesota Governor and was now the first Anchor for Morning Edition on the Minnesota Public Radio Network headquartered in Minnesota’s twin cities.  I was a major market radio host and newsman and that’s no small feat.  For all intents and purposes I was a respected member of society.  I had one small problem; I was also an uncontrollable drunk.   Following is but one day in the life of an alcoholic.

I’m telling this story because alcoholism and addiction is one of the greatest destroyers of human organs.  My long term addiction to alcohol and cigarettes (I quit smoking in 1991) quite likely contributed to my need for the heart transplant I received in August of 2007. 

Addiction is horrible, it is a terrible existence and the addict is powerless to stop it without help.  The craving for the drug, whatever it is, is stronger than any force you will ever encounter.  It overpowers reason, common sense, logic and even the love of family.  It destroys your moral code, your sense of ethics and even your hygiene.  You begin to live your life for the drug.  It is your best friend.   

Those of you without an addiction will have trouble understanding this and I’ve heard many of you say, “Just use some will power!”  O God if it were that easy.  I remember an addiction counselor telling a group  once, “Using will power to conquer addiction will get the same result as trying to use will power to control diarrhea.”  She was so right.

Following is but one slice of a long life of alcoholism.  It is the day, 30 years ago, that I stopped drinking.  This not the worst story I could tell, those aren’t even fit to print, but rather this is the  most significant because it marked the beginning of my sobriety.

I  should point out, too, that once a drunk always a drunk its just that some of us drunks are sober.

On July 17 of 1982 I awakened early in the morning with a splitting headache and nausea.  I stumbled through the bedroom covered in my own vomit to make it to the bathroom. Kneeling on the floor before the toilet I retched over and over again but there was nothing left in my stomach.  Its contents were on and around my bed and my t-shirt and underwear. 

When the retching stopped I stripped and stepped into a cold shower that felt like a million icy pinpricks.  I thought I smelled sauerkraut in the house but none was cooking, the odor was me.  I stunk.  I scrubbed my body as hard as I could but not having eaten in several days my strength was at a minimum and taking a shower was wearing me out.  You see, I wasn’t just suffering plain old flu, mine was a special flu that I brought on myself…it came out of a bottle marked Vodka 80 proof.  This was the granddaddy of all hangovers.

Freshly showered and shaved I descended the staircase to the first floor of our home to find it empty.  A terse note on the kitchen table told me my wife had gone to see some friends.   “So what” I thought.  “I’d rather be alone anyway.” 

Descending yet another set of stairs I found my way to the basement where behind the paneled walls I had built a secret compartment that housed my best friend, a quart bottle of 80 proof cheap vodka.  You see, when you are a drunk you drink for effect not for taste so why waste money when after a couple of swallows you can’t taste anything anyway. 

I removed the bottle from its cobwebbed hiding place, cracked the seal, removed the cap and put the opening to my lips.  As the clear liquid burned its way down my throat, I felt rescued.  The effect was almost immediate, I felt good again and didn’t give a damn about anyone but me.  Another couple of quick slugs and I was even better but by the time I got to the top of the basement stairs the alcohol hit me harder than ever before.  Because I hadn’t eaten in days and was not getting rest my resistance was down and I was drunk immediately.  

 In my addled brain I thought, “Another drink will fix this,” so I made my way back to the basement, recovered the bottle and literally crawled up the stairs into the kitchen where I fell into a kitchen chair uncapped the bottle and took another long slug.  In the few brief moments I had been awake I had already consumed a half quart of vodka. 

My mind was mush but somehow I remembered the night before, when we were to entertain my boss and his wife for dinner.  My wife had never met them so she was a little anxious.  I told her not to worry and busied myself with preparing our outdoor barbecue dinner.  Our garage was detached from the house so while I was out messing with the grill, I made a few trips into the garage for a rendezvous with another hidden bottle.  About 45 minutes before our guests were to arrive I had quite a buzz going but found a way to sneak another long swallow after which I told my wife I was going to lie down until the company came. 

Flashback now to my opening sentence because that’s the next thing I remember after lying down.  I went upstairs and passed out.  My poor wife was left to entertain people she had never met and, I was told later, made up the excuse that I had gotten very sick and had to go to bed.  She entertained them for the evening while I slept the sleep only a drunk can know. 

As I sat at the kitchen table, the realization of what must have happened made me realize how low I had sunk and I polished off the quart of vodka to somehow assuage my guilt.  Here I was with my head the table, drunk again, remorseful and needing another drink but my stash was gone.  I had no more and knew I could not drive — hell, I could hardly walk.

Reluctantly I picked up the phone and dialed my brother.  I told him I needed help because I thought I was an alcoholic.  He drove me to a treatment center and that’s when my life began anew.  

I need to pause here for a moment to offer thanks to some people who gave me a much needed break Bill Kling, founder and President of Minnesota Public Radio,  Sally Pope Kling his wife, Rick Lewis, who then was the VP of News at MPR and John Merli, the News Director..  They not only allowed me time to recover but to come back to MPR and continue to work.  Thanks Bill, Sally, Rick and John.  And…of course my brother Terry who took  me to treatment.  All of you will always be in my thoughts and prayers.

Within a year I started my own communications consulting business which I am still practicing. 

If you are an addict, think you might be or know someone who needs help here are some resources. 

http://nationalsubstanceabuseindex.org/

http://www.addictionresourceguide.com/resources.html

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/resources

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 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 video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

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. 

Are You an Alcoholic? Here’s the Test


By Bob Aronson

devil cartoonAlcohol, Drugs and Tobacco can have deadly effects on your organs and constitute one of the leading contributors to the need for organ transplantation.  I have long contended that while organ donation is important we just aren’t making enough headway under the current system.  Too many people are dying because of the organ shortage.  One way of reducing the organ shortage is to diminish the demand.   Healthier living could help achieve that goal. Look at this listing of the short and long term effects of alcohol.

Depending on how much is taken and the physical condition of the individual, alcohol can cause:

  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Impaired judgment
  • Decreased perception and coordination
  • Unconsciousness
  • Anemia (loss of red blood cells)
  • Coma
  • Blackouts (memory lapses, where the drinker cannot remember events that occurred while under the influence)

Long-term effects of alcohol

Binge drinking and continued alcohol use in large amounts are associated with many health problems, including:

 

  • Unintentional injuries such as car crash, falls, burns, drowning
  • Intentional injuries such as firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence
  • Increased on-the-job injuries and loss of productivity
  • Increased family problems, broken relationships
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • High blood pressure, stroke, and other heart-related diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Sexual problems
  • Permanent damage to the brain
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency, which can lead to a disorder characterized by amnesia, apathy and disorientation
  • Ulcers
  • Gastritis (inflammation of stomach walls)
  • Malnutrition
  • Cancer of the mouth and throat
  • More info available at http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/alcohol/short-term-long-term-effects.html

I am a recovering alcoholic (since 1982) and know first hand how Alcohol another drunk cartoonprobably caused me to need a heart transplant and cigarettes left me with serious Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD).   Since I began Blogging in November of 2007, I have published six posts on alcohol’s deadly effects on internal organs.  They are Alcohol and Drugs – Cunning, Mysterious, Deadly; Alcohol May Have Ruined My Heart, How Much Do You Drink; Think Outside the Bottle; Should Alcoholics Get Liver Transplants and How Alcohol Can Kill Your Liver and You. 

These posts have generated numerous responses and questions.  The most common question, though, is, “How can I tell if I am an alcoholic?  A simple answer  is, “If Alcohol is causing problems you  have an alcohol problem!” 

The “Gold Standard” of the treatment industry is the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST).  The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at  http://www.ncadd-sfv.org/downloads/mast_test.pdf  is a great resource  if you want more information.   I have copied the test and printed it below.  You can take it in the privacy of your home and grade yourself according to the instructions which follow the test.

In order for the results to be accurate your answers must be absolutely truthful, you do no good by lying to yourself so BE HONEST!  I hope you find this information helpful.  

If you take the test and determine that you  need help a good starting point is the Substance Abuse and  Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Government (SAMHSA)  http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/links/

 MICHIGAN ALCOHOLISM SCREENING TEST (MAST)

 

Please check one response for each item.

 

1. Do you feel you are a normal drinker? (“normal” – drink as much or less than most other

Yes

No

2. Have you ever awakened the morning after some drinking the night before and found that you could not remember a part of the evening?

Yes

No

3. Does any near relative or close friend ever worry or complain about your drinking?

Yes

No

4. Can you stop drinking without difficulty after one or two drinks?

Yes

No

5. Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking?

Yes

No

6. Have you ever attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Yes

No

7. Have you ever gotten into physical fights when drinking?

Yes

No

8. Has drinking ever created problems between you and a near relative or close friend?

Yes

No

9. Has any family member or close friend gone to anyone for help about your drinking?

Yes

No

10. Have you ever lost friends because of your drinking?

Yes

No

11. Have you ever gotten into trouble at work because of drinking?

Yes

No

12. Have you ever lost a job because of drinking?

Yes

No

13. Have you ever neglected your obligations, your family, or your work for two or more days in a row because you were drinking?

Yes

No

14. Do you drink before noon fairly often?

Yes

No

15. Have you ever been told you have liver trouble such as cirrhosis?

Yes

No

16. After heavy drinking have you ever had delirium tremens (D.T.’s), severe shaking, visual or auditory (hearing) hallucinations?

Yes

No

17. Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking?

Yes

No

18. Have you ever been hospitalized because of drinking?

Yes

No

19. Has your drinking ever resulted in your being hospitalized in a psychiatric ward?

Yes

No

20. Have you ever gone to any doctor, social worker, clergyman or mental health clinic for help with any emotional problem in which drinking was part of the problem?

Yes

No

21. Have you been arrested more than once for driving while under the influence of alcohol?

Yes

No

22. Have you ever been arrested, even for a few hours, because of other behavior while drinking?

Yes

No

About Scoring this Alcoholism Test Questionnaire

This quiz is scored by allocating 1 point to each ‘yes’ answer — except for questions 1 and 4, where 1 point is allocated for each ‘no’ answer — and totaling the responses.

So in other words, please score one point if you answered the following:

1) No

2) Yes

3) Yes

4) No

5-22) Yes

(Note that this is the current revised version of the MAST; the original MAST included 25 questions and used a more complex scoring method.)

Your Alcoholism Test Score

0-2 = No Apparent Problem

3-5 = Early or Middle Problem Drinker

6+ = Problem Drinker

Please comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org.  And – spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors.  On-line registration can be done at www.donatelife.net  Whenever you can, help people formally register.  There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance.  If you convince one person to be a donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives.  Some of those lives may be people you know and love.  

You are also invited to join Facebook’s Organ Transplantation Initiative (OTI) a 3,400 member  group dedicated to providing help and information to donors, donor families, transplant patients and families, caregivers and all other interested parties.  Your participation is important if we are to influence decision makers to support efforts to increase organ donation and support organ regeneration, replacement and research efforts. 

 bob minus Jay full shotBob Aronson is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder and primary author of the blogs on this site and the founder of Facebook’s over 3,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative group.

Now retired and living in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife Robin he spends his time advocating for patients with end stage diseases and for organ recipients.  He is also active in helping his wife with her art business at art festivals and on her Rockin Robin Prints site on Etsy. 

Bob is a former journalist, Governor’s Communication Director and international communications consultant.

 

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