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Man’s death highlights dangers of binge drinking

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009 Man’s death highlights dangers of binge drinking

The death of a man aged just 22 from alcoholic liver failure has reignited debate over the right of problem drinkers to receive transplant surgery.

Gary Reinbach, from Dagenham, Essex, was given only a few weeks to live after developing cirrhosis of the liver. He was admitted to University College Hospital London (UCL) with alcohol damage for the first time 10 weeks ago.

However, he was refused a liver transplant after health service managers ruled he should not be exempt from strict organ donation criteria which require patients to remain alcohol free within their community for six months before surgery.

Mr Reinbach, who died on Sunday, was too ill to be sent home after his admission to hospital and therefore could not fulfil the criteria making him eligible for the life saving transplant.

Following his death, Mr Reinbach’s family said he started drinking aged 11 when his parents split up, and began binge drinking with friends at the age of 13.

He did not realise that he was developing cirrhosis of the liver until he was admitted to hospital. Once there he deteriorated quickly despite reportedly receiving the most advanced therapies available short of a transplant.

Doctors had supported Mr Reinbach’s plight, saying that under the circumstances, it was unfair that the rules could not be waived in his case.

Professor Rajiv Jalan, a consultant hepatologist at UCL, 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.”

Prior to his death, Mr Reinbach’s mother said he 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 added.

In reaction to the death, campaign group Alcohol concern has called for more research into the way alcohol can effect young peoples health.

Speaking about Mr Reinbach’s case, a spokeswoman said: “This doesn’t surprise us at all, sadly.

“Statistics show that more people are getting liver disease in their 30s and, if more teenagers are drinking, people will become seriously ill at a younger age.

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.

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