Best doing 'very, very well'

Manchester United legend George Best was this morning doing "very, very well" after a liver transplant at the Cromwell Hospital, west London, medical staff said.

Manchester United legend George Best was this morning doing "very, very well" after a liver transplant at the Cromwell Hospital, west London, medical staff said.

"His condition improved late last night," said Professor Roger Williams, consultant physician at the hospital.

"Many surgical problems anticipated clearly haven't come to much. The surgeons are very pleased indeed at his progress."

Prof Williams said: "If he goes on as he is doing at present he should be out of intensive care late today or tomorrow."

He said patients usually spent another seven to 14 days in hospital after the operation.

Best probably would be continuing with the stomach implant treatment he received before the operation when he left, Prof Williams said.

Consultant surgeon Nigel Heaton, who carried out the surgery, said it was a difficult operation but that 56-year-old Best was now doing well.

"It took longer than normal," he said.

"This operation usually takes around five to six hours but it took around eight hours.

"Liver transplantation can be quite difficult."

It was important that the body did not reject the organ, he said, adding: "The early signs are that it is working well," he said.

Professor Williams, asked on BBC Breakfast about implants in Best's stomach which would cause a violent reaction to drink, said: "He has found the implant treatment that he has had a great help over the last year, and when the transplant was discussed, it was his desire to continue with that treatment after the transplant, and I hope he will do that, because clearly that's very important."

Asked if Best would be "on the wagon" when he recovered, Prof Williams said: "That's what we want him to do, I think he wants to do it, he certainly wants to do it himself."

Doctors have described Tuesday's surgery as "difficult" but say Best's prospects for recovery are good, barring complications.

Best was placed on the transplant waiting list nine months ago.

Doctors warned that his liver had been permanently damaged by decades of alcohol abuse.

Prof Williams said yesterday: "The long-term chances, if he gets through the first week, are very good.

"About 80% people having a transplant do well at one year. If they do well at one year, they go on doing well."

Best was accompanied to the hospital by his 29-year-old second wife, Alex, whom he married seven years ago.

The couple returned on Thursday from a holiday in Malta, where they had stayed within an hour of the airport to ensure they could be back in Britain within six hours if necessary.

Best's son from a previous marriage, Calum, was spotted smoking a cigarette from a hospital balcony.

Best disclosed last year that he was considering a transplant after staying sober for 12 months - the criterion for a place on the waiting list.

He had Antabuse tablets inserted into his stomach to keep him on the wagon after being warned that just one more drink could kill him.

But his liver was not recovering from the decades of abuse.

Best, who works as a sports commentator for Sky, was told he must give up drinking or die after he collapsed in early 2000.

He underwent extensive treatment for liver damage at the Cromwell later that year and Prof Williams, who treated him, told how the footballer's liver was ravaged by the heavy drinking, making him vulnerable to infections.

Some 5,000 people die each year from chronic liver disease, and there was an average of more than 159 people waiting for a transplant last year.

The average wait for a first liver transplant is currently 60 days, although the figure varies at the seven transplant units around the country.

The operation has a 5% mortality rate.

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