Alcoholic Gary Reinbach dead at 22 after transplant refused
A man has died of alcoholic liver failure at the age of just 22 despite a public appeal from his doctors for transplant rules to be waived to give him a chance at life.
Gary Reinbach and his family were told that unless he could prove that he could live alcohol-free in the community for six months he could not qualify for a donor organ – but he was too sick to leave hospital.
His doctors and his family went public at the weekend to highlight his plight, but Mr Reinbach died less than 48 hours after they issued their appeal for the rules to be waived.
Today, his mother Madeline Hanshaw, 44, expressed her bitterness that he had been denied a chance. She told the Evening Standard: “These rules are really unfair. I’m not saying you should give a transplant to someone who is in and out of hospital all the time and keeps damaging themselves, but just for people like Gary, who made a mistake and never got a second chance.”
His brother Luke, 18, told the newspaper: “They never gave him the chance to show he could change.”
Mr Reinbach’s family said he started drinking aged 11 when his parents split up, and began binge drinking with friends in Dagenham in Essex at the age of 13.
He did not realise that he was developing cirrhosis of the liver until he was admitted to hospital for the first time 10 weeks ago. Once at University College Hospital in London he deteriorated quickly despite reportedly receiving the most advanced therapies available short of a transplant, including a one-off treatment with an artificial liver from San Diego, California.
Doctors said that only a transplant could save him, and that it was unfair that due to the shortage of donor organs the strict rules that heavy drinkers must prove that they can be abstinent could not be waived in his case.
Professor Rajiv Jalan, a consultant hepatologist at UCH, told the Sunday Times: “This is a young man who has never known any better. He has been drinking for eight or nine years and did not see what was coming to him. We feel this boy deserves a transplant because it is the first time he has come to the hospital with an alcohol-related problem.
“Most of us feel that if the patient has been abstinent for a period of time, and not a repeat offender, they should be given an opportunity. The debate is whether there should be exceptions to that rule.
“Gary has been in hospital for 10 weeks now and is teetering on the brink of death. He is in a catch22 situation because, if he does not get better, he is going to die in the hospital. He is never going to have the time to demonstrate he has been abstinent [outside hospital].”
His mother revealed that she had been told a transplant would give her son a 75 per cent chance of survival, whereas doctors rated his chances without one at less than one in three.
“Gary didn’t know what he was doing when he was 13. He didn’t know it would come to this when he was 22. He didn’t know he was going to die. All his friends who were drinking with him are still at home, they are fine,” pleaded Ms Hanshaw, 44, a kitchen assistant.
His mother said that Mr Reinbach was “desperate to recover” and had recently tried to give up. He had signed up for support group Alcoholics Anonymous just weeks before he was taken into hospital, she said.
He died less than 48 hours after his plight became public. A spokesman for University College Hospital said: “Our sympathies are with his family at this time.”
After details of Mr Reinbach’s plight emerged, campaign group Alcohol Concern said it was worried a rise in teenage drinking would lead to more people suffering alcohol-related illnesses at younger ages.
“There has not really been much research into younger people’s drinking and the effects that is having on health in this country,” said a spokeswoman.
“A study in the United States has shown that if you are having your first drink at an age younger than 15 then you are more likely to become alcohol dependent. And we would like to see research done in the UK.”
More than 8,000 Britons are awaiting an organ transplant, 259 of whom require livers. More than 400 people died on the waiting list last year.
The shortage of organs has been exacerbated by them being given to overseas patients who pay for the transplants. This year the health department was forced to investigate after it emerged that in the past two years the livers of 50 British donors had been given to foreign patients.
Binge drinking among young people has led to a sharp rise in deaths from cirrhosis of the liver in the 25-34 age group and hospital admissions among young people have been increasing. In 2007-8 the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust dealt with 8,126 alcohol-related calls for 11 to 21-year-olds, a 27% increase on 2004-5.
source: Times Online