For the first time, I’ve started to look after myself – and I’ve never felt better.

With liver disease in his family, Peter has lived with poor liver function for 40 years. But, at 64, he’s found some simple ways of taking charge of his health.

Liver disease is quite insidious. The liver doesn’t send out too many warnings that it’s not working as well as it should be. It’s not like the breathlessness and aching chest you may get to warn you of heart disease or a strange mark on the skin that shows you might have skin cancer.

The liver just doesn’t hurt. You might not realise it, but by being a bit overweight and eating poor foods, you can do all this unknown damage which, once it progresses, can be irreversible.

But doing something about it is simple. Just look after yourself, have regular blood tests every couple of years, and listen to what your doctors tell you.

It was back in 1986, when I was 27, that my GP first noticed that my liver function tests were elevated. She said ‘Peter, you must be a really big drinker.’ That was a shock to me, as I was only a social drinker, but I was never a big drinker. It was not the first time a doctor thought I had a drinking problem as this seems to be society’s belief of the cause of all liver disease. My chronic liver disease was more due to an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and obesity.

About five years later, I was referred to a gastroenterologist and, following a liver biopsy, I was diagnosed with fatty liver disease. His advice was to lose weight, but I still didn’t think too much about it. I was carrying some extra weight, but as an air traffic controller doing shift work, it was difficult to eat regular meals. I’d love sugar in my coffee to keep me alert on night shift, or I’d grab fast food and not worry about a healthy dinner.

Then in 2016 I had trip to hospital with a gallstone. I had a really bad pain across the top of my chest, I saw a new doctor to get a medical certificate for work and he sent me straight to hospital. They took a blood test to see if I’d had a heart attack, and the doctor came back and said, ‘Your liver function tests are really strange.’

I told him they had been strange for years. ‘No,’ he said, ‘You’re about to experience liver failure.’

That was the wake-up call. My father had died of a heart attack and stroke at 56, and one of my brothers died of liver disease quite recently. Another brother and my son also have fatty liver disease – there may be a genetic predisposition in my family.

I saw a new gastroenterologist and was told once again to lose weight. I’d carried too much weight my whole adult life, and at that time I was about 105 or 110kg – at least 20kg heavier than I should have been.

I didn’t lose the weight in a hurry, but I started eating more healthily. I saw a dietitian and the weight gradually started coming off. Then, after 37 years in the job, I got the opportunity to stop work and that’s when I finally got below 100kg. Eventually I was put on weight loss medication, and now I’m down to 85kg.

I feel so good for it. At one stage my liver function tests showed I’d developed fibrosis bordering on cirrhosis. But in the last two years, because I have lost weight my condition is levelling off. My numbers are looking pretty good now.

I also have prediabetes and need regular blood tests for my blood sugar. For years my numbers were always up, but since I have lost weight they have come down.

I’ve started to look after myself. I just eat healthily. When I go to the football, I still might have a pie as a treat. But it is just that – a treat. I don’t have chips or a hamburger as well. I don’t miss my old diet at all.

I’ve always enjoyed walking because I had a sedentary job. But that extra 20kg was heavy to carry around. Now I can walk more quickly and much more easily, and when I finish I’m not so breathless as I used to be.

I’ve learned not to ignore the doctors – and I feel a whole lot better for it.

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