Paul Gilbertson | Northfield Hospital & Clinics


Paul Gilbertson

Paul Gilbertson

Paul Gilbertson revived his liver . . . and his life. 

Heavy drinking caused liver failure so advanced that Paul was given three to six months to live.  

He was 47 years old. 

“I had to make a decision really quick: Live, or die?” Paul says. “I made the decision to live. I quit drinking.” 

In a healthy liver, blood flows from the portal vein into the liver like water from a hose into a sponge. But scarring and hardening of the vein blocks blood flow, and prevents the liver from doing its job removing excess salt from the body. Fluid builds up and can leak into the abdomen, damaging the lungs and other organs.  

“It was brutal being so sick,” Paul recalls. “Every day you don’t want to get out of bed, you can’t bend over to tie your shoes, you’re exhausted all the time.”  

A shunt can be inserted in the damaged vein to bypass the liver. This TIPS procedure (transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt) reduces blood backup and relieves pressure on the liver and other organs.  

TIPS could help Paul. But first, his care team needed to stop fluid buildup, so Paul could get healthy enough to have the TIPS procedure. 

Paul needed paracentesis: A needle is inserted in the belly to drain off the fluid. NH+C’s Endoscopy team does this procedure in the Surgery Center at Northfield Hospital. 

But first, Paul had to stop drinking. 

Surgeon Ashley Marek, MD convinced him. “She said, ‘This is what you what you need to do. And we’ll get through it together.’ She was instrumental in saving my life.” 

“She’s a rock star,” Paul says. “She’s very confident in what she’s doing, and very reassuring.”  

Paul had paracentesis every week for a year. The Endoscopy team drained about 17 pounds of fluid from his body every week. “I’d go from size 50 pants to size 32,” Paul says. “I actually looked forward to getting drained every week.” 

His care team was “very encouraging and helpful. They made it a lot easier in a bad situation,” Paul says. He credits Stephanie Marshall, RN Clinic Coordinator, nurse Jackie Malecha, RN and the Endoscopy staff with a natural kindness: “You can see it in their work and how they live their life and how they treat their patients,” Paul says. “They knew I was in pain, and some people are matter-of-fact about pain because they see it every day. Instead, this staff was very caring, and wanted to help.” 

Paul’s final session was in August 2021. He had the TIPS procedure at the University of Minnesota, and has stayed healthy ever since. 

“It changed my life,” Paul says. “I’m so glad it’s over. I couldn’t have done it without those gals.  Dr. Marek and Stephanie were my biggest cheerleaders.” 

Paul’s a grandpa now, eating healthy and doing Pilates and yoga five times a week. He’s happy with his second chance at life. 

“The Bible says, ‘You reap what you sow,’ but first you must sow,” Paul says. “I have a tattoo on my arm that says, ‘Truly Blessed.’ I was blessed to pull out of it.” 

Paul’s advice for others: “Don’t wait until it’s too late. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t too late – but it was very close. Thank goodness I was able to make my own decisions on saving my own life.”  

With a good team at his side. 

Learn more: Endoscopy