Hayes told ESPN before entering the hospital last month that he had been placed on a waiting list for a transplant at the Mayo Clinic and Northwestern Medicine in December after being hospitalized over 20 times in the past year.
"The first diagnosis they gave me was alcoholic cirrhosis," Hayes said. "But when we dug in deeper, it became just chronic liver disease, because I don't drink like that. If I did drink, it was just like wine or something like that. But my body is made different. And that's what [my doctor] said -- 'Everybody's made different.'"
"I went from 220 [pounds] to 150," Hayes said. "That was when I was first diagnosed."
While alcoholic liver cirrhosis is on the rise in people ages 25-34, according to a 2018 University of Michigan study, Hayes said he suspects the use of nonprescription pain medications is what caused his condition, combined with a family history of liver disease. Hayes said he took over-the-counter pain medications during his playing career but never more than the amount directed on the bottle.
"I didn't do like regular guys do with the Toradol shots ... I just took [NSAIDs]," Hayes said. "I thought it was safer. But once I got out and started doing research, I was like, 'Oh ... my body is not set up for this.'"
Hayes, who played for the Bucs from 2008 to 2011, the Chicago Bears in 2012 and Jacksonville Jaguars from 2013 to 2014, was diagnosed with the condition while being treated for an unrelated medical issue.
The FDA advises that taking too much Tylenol (acetaminophen) can cause liver damage, and those with liver disease or who consume three alcoholic drinks daily should consult with their doctor before taking the medication. As far as Aleve (naproxen), it has been associated with cases of drug-induced liver injury -- 1-3 per 100,000 users, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
"At first, I didn't let my kids come around when I was in the hospital," said Hayes, who has children ages 13 and 8 with wife, Shevelle. "Over time we eased into them knowing about me, and now they know how to handle things ..."
"I went into a depression for literally three months ... supreme depression," said Hayes, who initially kept his diagnosis private before opening up, believing it could help others. "I wanted more to know but didn't want to be a burden.
"Being in my position, I was always so private that I closed myself off to people."
He said he hoped his story will help people learn to appreciate all the good that they have -- life's simple pleasures -- like being surprised in bed by his daughter or hearing her laughter, and his son's when they'd snatch his phone and take pictures of him sleeping, posting them on his Twitter account.
"I'm enjoying life, I'm spending more time with my kids and I really want to help people," Hayes said. "My main goal is to just inspire, to inspire the next person, no matter what they're going through, no matter who talks bad about them -- family, friends, social media, all of that crap -- it don't matter. You take care of you. Make sure you're straight. That's all I want to do."