WHEN Richard Allen was a boy growing up in Chirk he recalls the men folk of the town taking the long walk down the hill to slake their thirst with a Sunday pint.

In the days when Wales observed strict licensing laws the town's pubs were shut on the Sabbath, but not so in Chirk Bank over the border in England where the men happily headed after attending morning service. "The First and Last (pub in England)" or "The Trap" as it was affectionately known was apparently a watering hole in big demand.

Now reformed alcoholic Richard believes it ironically may be again when the minimum unit pricing of alcohol (MUP) is introduced in Wales next summer - although he firmly hopes the current generation of Welsh drinkers will heed the message of "Love Your Liver" which he is helping to spread.

For Richard's heaving drinking, which was triggered by bouts of depression, nearly cost him his life and now he wants others to get real about the dangers of liver disease. With no obvious warning signs in its early stages it has been branded the "Silent Killer".

But help is at hand in Wrexham next Tuesday (November 20) when a free screening programme run by the British Liver Trust, for whom Richard works as a voluntary counsellor, is offering anyone with concerns about their lifestyle the chance to identify potential liver problems before it is too late.

“You can start getting a fatty liver well before the signs start to show up. The trouble with the liver is that it hasn't got any pain receptors and the first people will know about it is when they wake up with yellow eyes and jaundice,” explains Richard.

“You can live a normal life because the liver repairs itself, but then slowly left unattended fibrosis and hardening develops. But if you know that you have problems then you can treat it with tablets and make lifestyle changes.”

That is just what Richard, now aged 65, did as he realised he was heading for oblivion after years of social drinking during his time in the armed forces when servicemen went from NAAFI to bar. Yet he recalls he was far from a heavy drinker and it was only when depression hit him later in life that his drinking intensified and ultimately threatened his life.

"There was always a cycle of events which used to end in me getting depressed every 24 days. I self-medicated with alcohol and I would drink solidly for four days and pass out,” he remembers. I didn't know I had liver disease and that I had a condition called varices which is linked to cirrhosis.

“I didn't get treatment for my alcoholism and I carried on with that lifestyle without knowing I had liver disease. My liver was so badly damaged I was developing tumours which fortunately for me were benign."

Richard’s epiphany arrived four years ago when he went on the transplant list for a donor liver. He stopped drinking in December 2014 and has been teetotal since. Two years ago he was the relieved recipient of a new organ.

"I was given a second chance of life and I owe it to my donor, I know that,” he admits. “Now I want to spread the message to others and warn people about the dangers of damaging your liver."

He will join other members of British Liver Trust spreading the message at next week’s Wrexham roadshow at which people can undertake a lifestyle questionnaire to assess their liver health before they undergo non-invasive screening, similar to the ultrasound used with expectant mothers.

"It will take 15 minutes at most and if the fibro scan flags up a problem then we print out a letter to give to GPs asking them to investigate further. This could be life-changing for a lot of people," predicts Richard, who now lives in Stoke-on-Trent.

It is perhaps not surprising the roadshow is visiting Wales, as the Principality is a hot spot for the disease with more than 3,000 people admitted to hospital suffering from liver disease every year. Alcohol misuse accounts for 84 per cent of liver-related deaths of which there were 807 in 2015 alone, representing an increase of almost 20 per cent over the past five years.

While the mortality rate for liver disease in Wrexham County Borough (18.1 per 100,000 population) is lower than the Welsh national average (20.5 per 100,000) there is a big problem with binge drinking with a quarter of adults reporting incidents of heavy boozing at least once a week.

Those that do could be among the one in five adults in Wales walking around unaware they have disease. As well as excessive drinking, obesity and contracting viral hepatitis are the main causes.

Lifestyle changes can make the difference, but people may need a push and Judi Rhys, Chief Executive, of the liver charity, hopes the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol will help cut back on binging.

“Scotland has led the way and Wales is following suit with a 50 pence per unit price which we welcome because of the availability of very strong drinks, particularly ciders like Frosty Jack that are sold cheaply and are causing a real problem for a group of people who are most vulnerable,” points out Judi.

“We know that it will have a good effect and we believe 60 lives a year can be saved just by minimum pricing.

“Ninety per cent of liver damage is preventable. But although the liver is remarkably resilient, if left until symptoms appear damage is often irreversible. Approximately 20 per cent of the people we scan will need to go and have further checks."

*The mobile screening and scanning unit will be at Queen’s Square in Wrexham between 10am and 4pm on Tuesday, November 20. The first one hundred people to attend will receive the free liver scan.