In 2008, a turn in Ron Jambor’s health meant he had to drop the illusions he had about his drinking and do what he could to make alcohol disappear from his life.
“My stomach was bloated, and people were noticing my eyes were yellow,” remembers Ron, now 67. Ron’s heavy drinking had caused liver damage that led to his jaundice. But the fluid in his stomach was even more concerning. This was a symptom of portal hypertension, a condition in which blocked blood vessels in the liver raise the blood pressure in veins coming from the intestine.
“I realized I had to do something about it.”
Ron’s primary care physician was blunt: Unless Ron stopped drinking, his swollen veins could rupture and bleed. That could be life-threatening.
“He knew I was an alcoholic, and so did I,” Ron says. “But it was then that I realized I had to do something about it.”
Road to recovery
Ron needed to see a specialist at Cedars-Sinai, but would not qualify for a referral from his doctors until he tested negative for alcohol for 12 consecutive months. He retired from his job in finance and focused on getting sober and spending more time with his wife, LeeAnn, and their 2 grandsons.
He underwent paracentesis, a procedure to remove the painful fluid buildup in his stomach. “It looked like draft beer when it came out,” Ron says, chuckling.
“It’s tough to give up something you liked doing for over 30 years.”
He relied on his sense of humor a lot during those early days of sobriety. A little magic also helped.
“It’s been a hobby. I used to be a member of the Magic Castle, and I’ve performed magic shows for friends and family.”
Ron says pastimes like magic and stamp collecting were important to helping him stay sober, as was his work through Alcoholics Anonymous.
“It’s tough to give up something you liked doing for over 30 years. But my liver was in jeopardy,” says Ron, who passed those 12 months of tests and has remained sober since.
“Some people get help from doctors and then go back to drinking,” he says. “They look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m grateful that I was given one more shot and didn’t blow it.”
“Ron put in the work and it paid off.”
Ron’s surgeon was Dr. Nicholas Nissen, director of Liver Transplant and Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery at Cedars-Sinai. Dr. Nissen told Ron that while he had stopped drinking in time to save his liver, the blood flow had been permanently impaired due to the portal hypertension.
“We had to reroute the blood to lower Ron’s risk of bleeding and other problems,” Dr. Nissen explains. “But we wouldn’t have had these options if Ron hadn’t changed his lifestyle. He put in the work and it paid off.”
“The way I look at it, they saved my life”
Ron spent a week in the intensive care unit following his surgery. He was carefully monitored throughout this period—sometimes in ways that amazed his wife.
“One day, all of a sudden,” LeeAnn recalls, “here comes this robot down the hall with a TV screen on it. It reminded me of Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons. But it was Ron’s neurologist who appeared on the robot’s screen. He started talking to us! He was controlling the robot from his office in real time. It was a quick visit to check Ron’s brain functioning and other vital signs. This technology put him in the room with us to follow Ron’s progress.”
“I wanted everybody to have pizza on me.”
As a postoperative patient, Ron was given easily-digested meals during his recovery, but he went off his medically-prescribed eating plan on the last day of his month-long hospital stay to order a dozen pizzas for everyone who worked on the 5th floor of the medical center.
“I wanted everybody to have pizza on me. I wanted to thank them all. I felt a bond with those people. The way I look at it, they saved my life. Every one of them. I can’t say enough about the whole staff. Everybody did their job to keep me well. I’m very appreciative.”
Advice on priorities: spirituality is number one
Ron was never exactly shy, but before he gave up drinking, he wasn’t the sort of guy who gave speeches. That has changed. He now appears at veterans’ groups, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and other organizations to share his story.
“When I meet people in the same mess that I was in, I tell them that to feel the gratitude I feel today, they’re going to have to follow the plan. It’s up to them.”
For Ron, that plan refers to a change of priorities. His job had always been number one to him.
“All I cared about was making money and working. But after I’ve been through this thing, I think god is what’s important,” says Ron, who prefers to think of his higher power with a lowercase-g. “I don’t preach to people. Your spiritual belief can be whatever you want, so long as you make it number one in your life. That’s how you keep things in perspective and stay strong.”
Family is number two
Ron believes that looking after your loved ones is the next priority. That awareness has been essential to his recovery.
“For me, I know my marriage, step-daughter, and the kids have been so important. I’m grateful for them too.”
Having sworn off stress and overwork, today Ron is more likely found impressing his grandsons with a card trick or showing them a new stamp in his collection. He also enjoys spending quiet evenings beside a small koi pond that he built for his wife.
The real meaning of compassion
Ron points out that at Al-Anon, a sister organization of Alcoholics Anonymous for people close to alcoholics, everyone has been affected by someone who has an addiction to alcohol. Sometimes, he says, compassion means being honest and setting hard boundaries with someone even if it is difficult.
“You bet I’m grateful I was there at that party—that I made it.”
“It’s good to be compassionate, but not if it leaves us making excuses for someone who needs help,” Ron says.
“I got lucky with my own family. They helped me turn my life around. I knew people who weren’t so lucky. My wife and I recently went to my high school’s 50th class reunion. Quite a few folks weren’t alive because they died of addiction of some sort. You bet I’m grateful I was there at that party—that I made it.”
Ron is a grateful patient and supporter of the Campaign for Cedars-Sinai. Learn more about the Campaign.
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