Dunkirk man gets ‘new life’ on liver with diet

Ralph Ward lost 36 pounds and his liver has greatly improved after trying to keto diet. OBSERVER Photo by Jo Ward.

It started in 2015, but had been building for awhile. My husband, Ralph Ward, had been complaining about horrible pain in his right side. We went to the doctor who thought it might be Irritable Bowel Syndrome due to the increase in heart burn he was experiencing. He was placed on Pantoprazole and that seemed to help. A few months later it just wasn’t getting any better.

“They tested me for gallbladder issues as a lot of people in my family had them removed,” Ralph stated. “However all the tests for that came back fine.” The doctor then ordered a CT scan and that’s when they found his enlarged liver. “I was so glad when they found an answer, but it was overwhelming to hear at the same time,” Ralph shared.

In 2017 we began making trips to Buffalo General Hospital every three months to see Dr. Andrew Talal, a liver specialist recommended by our doctor. There, he was entered into a study group for a new testing procedure that had been used in Europe for years and was now being approved by the FDA. This test was called a FibroScan; a noninvasive ultrasound that measures fibrosis (scarring) and steatosis (fatty change) in the liver without the need of a biopsy.

The first scan was a shocker as we found out that he was bordering on cirrhosis, diagnosed with stage 3 non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and he had to make some dietary changes fast. He cut out all alcohol and we started packing salads in his lunch as opposed to sandwiches as well as fruit, nuts and granola bars. Each appointment they performed this scan and each time his numbers remained off the chart. The only thing that helped was that he had little scarring and we found that black coffee may have attributed to that, but we didn’t know what else to do.

It was now July of 2019 and we weren’t seeing any improvement. “For awhile there I kind of gave up, I felt like ‘well it’s not getting any better’ so I just didn’t even worry about my diet for awhile,” Ralph added. It took getting told in October that he had high blood pressure that pushed him over the edge.

“I went on the keto diet,” He said. “I did a lot of research into it, online, read opinions from doctors, bought books and talked to people that tried it. I knew three guys at my work that had tried it and it worked for them. I mean what else did I have to lose? I’m not going to get better if I continue eating badly; I should at least try to get better. I figured I would go on the diet and I’m either going to do it or I’m not going to do it.”

The keto diet is where a person drastically reduces their carbohydrate intake and replaces it with fat, basically switching the body’s main fuel source from glucose, which is broken down from sugar and carbs, to ketones, which are made in the liver from converted fat taken from the body. Along with this he also planned to take part in intermitten fasting, or where he would eat two larger meals a day and not lunch.

Research done and feeling confident Ralph began the diet on Nov. 3. He began by looking at a list in one of the books showing what he could eat on the diet and began buying food according to that. He then did more research to find things he could eat, recipes and substitutions and made those changes. He also learned how to read the nutrition labels to keep in the acceptable range for the diet. “Someone on keto eats between 20-30 grams of carbs, I try to stay around 20 to allow for carbs in vegetables to be figured in. I have to count the sugars and added sugars to stay there as well. I also use apps on my phone.”

Things started out slow and he didn’t see much change the first week. “I didn’t see too much weight loss the first week, because with the keto diet, you go through a transition, getting used to not having carbs, they call it the ‘keto flu,’ but it’s not really an illness. You just feel run down, lightheaded, you just don’t feel right,” he shared. “But I pushed through it, and the second week I noticed a huge difference and began dropping weight like crazy. I now feel better, my joints don’t hurt and I have a lot more energy.”

On Jan. 7, Ralph returned to Dr. Talal for another scan, now 36 pounds lighter, and hopes were high that the fat percentage in his liver would be down. Once it was complete a total of three different doctors came in to see us in shocked amazement. He had gone from stage 3 liver disease to basically cured.

“They kept asking me what I had done. Had I exercised, what had I stopped eating, they were surprised with the results,” Ralph happily added. “All I did was change my diet, nothing else.”

Leaving Buffalo that day he was happier than I’ve seen him in years and I was relieved as well. Who knew making such a change could save his life, but it had. The doctors said they’d have to do a few more scans, before pronouncing him free of the disease, but assured him that if he stayed on this path, they didn’t see an issue.

“I’m never going to go back to an unhealthy diet again,” Ralph said as he now looked toward the gym to tone up as well. “Once I get down to where I want my weight to be, I’ll go on more of a restrictive carb diet that’s not so drastic and just maintain things.”

His next scan is in July and for the first time, we’re actually looking forward to it.