The sister and former wife of soccer legend George Best have backed a campaign to give a 19-year-old binge-drinker a new liver.
Barbara McNarry, who runs the George Best Foundation which provides funds for research into liver disease and alcoholism, and George’s ex-wife Alex both said they hoped that strict transplant criteria could be relaxed to help the Newtownards teenager given just three weeks to live.
Gareth Anderson suffered complete liver failure after a weekend of heavy drinking. He was rushed to the Ulster Hospital earlier this month but doctors have now warned he has little time left.
Gareth’s only chance at life is a new liver — but the young construction worker is not eligible because he has not abstained from alcohol for six months.
Last night Mrs McNarry, who watched her famous brother die from alcohol-related illness in 2005, called for doctors to look again at this “life and death” case.
“My heart goes out to Gareth’s family. They are under unimaginable distress.
“I appreciate that there are procedures and criteria but Gareth is not in the position to wait. I don’t know the full medical history but I understand that the more procrastination there is the more his chances are lessened.
“I am aware, more than anyone, of the controversy surrounding liver transplants and I respect other people’s views on it. But what if this was your loved one? Some of the cynics should go and look and see what they are going through and I think they would change their minds.
“I understand that Gareth is not in a position to wait and that this needs to be done soon. Rules could surely be adjusted to suit individual case.
“It is such a sad reflection of the enormity of this drinking problem. Gareth is just one of the many young people caught up in this binge-drinking culture.
“I cannot imagine what this young man’s family are going through.”
Alex Best, who was married to George when he received his liver transplant in 2002, also agreed that Gareth should be offered a second chance.
“I think every single case should be looked at differently. It is very important that everyone be given a second chance. I cannot understand why they put this whole six months rule for someone so young. It’s not as if he has been
drinking for years and years and years and wants a new liver. He is only 19.
“Nowadays there is a huge binge-drinking culture — it is a real problem for society.”
Gareth’s distraught father Brian made a desperate appeal to help save his son.
Fighting back tears he told the Belfast Telegraph: “How do I tell my child he is going to die? I put my arms round him and swore blind that I would do everything in my power to save him.
“I am trying to get my baby home. If I could pay for this myself I would. If I could do it myself I would — but I can’t. I am doing all this in the hope of saving his life.
“I can honestly put my hands up and say I have done everything in my power to help. That’s my job. Now it’s up to the politicians to get up and do what they are paid to. He’s 19, but he’s just a child in my eyes.”
A spokeswoman from the South Eastern Health and Social Services Trust said: “Dr Tony Tham, consultant gastroenterologist, has spoken again to King’s College Hospital and confirmed that patients must abstain from alcohol for a six-month period before they can be considered for a liver transplant. This is a nationally agreed policy and the trust was told again this morning that there can be no exceptions.
“The trust realises that this is a difficult time for the patient and his family and we will continue to provide the best treatment possible.”
Dr Tham said: “There are many patients waiting for liver transplants. Livers are a scarce resource and demand exceeds supply. Transplants in certain settings associated with alcohol are risky and have a poor outcome.”
Gareth, a former Movilla High School pupil, has been described as a typical teenager who is hardworking and loveable.
His family admit that, like most boys his age, he has engaged in spates of binge-drinking but has never shown any signs of ill health or been to hospital with an alcohol-related problem. They were left in shock when he became ill.
Mr Anderson added: “He took ill at home. He started to turn yellow, jaundiced, and we got him to casualty and he ended up in ward 12 where he is today. The hospital staff have been tremendous and have kept us well informed, but two or three weeks ago they told us there was nothing they could do. I obviously asked the question, why can’t we have a new liver for him?”
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said Gareth was one of nine people in urgent need of a new liver in Northern Ireland.
“Because of the short supply of donor organs doctors have to make very tough decisions about who will have the opportunity to benefit from a transplant. These decisions are clinical decisions which take into account the full circumstances of the individual case,” he said.