This is Danny's pancreatitis story, as told by his daughter Katie.
Danny was without a doubt a one of a kind. He was fun, always had twinkle in his eye, a ‘Dad joke’ (or four) ready to go, and a lady friend in the wings. Dad was ready to help anyone and was the strongest person I have ever known. He loved socialising and meeting new people, “go out, you never know who you’ll meet” was almost a mantra. He would never complain or whinge, keeping how he felt very much under wraps.
Danny suffered gut-related conditions since his 20s. He had to medically retire from the British Army after almost a decade of service, with an exemplary record. He suffered from a duodenal ulcer and most of his stomach was removed before the age of 30. This led to further complications throughout his life including dumping syndrome.
The first time we heard the word ‘pancreatitis’ was in 2013. We received a phone call from the hospital to say dad was very ill and it did not look as though he would pull through. Against the odds, dad slowly recovered. After a month in hospital, he discharged himself, went straight to the bookies to put a bet on and then home, to get ready for a date.
From 2017, dad started to lose considerable weight and retreated from life. Where he was always outgoing, he seemed to become slightly introverted. He seemed to lose interest in life.
On 6th January 2019, dad was admitted to hospital via ambulance with pancreatitis. By Friday, he had developed pneumonia and needed to be placed into an induced coma. We were told dad had a 20% chance of waking up. But my dad was a fighter. I told them to do what they had to, but dad would be out of ICU in a week. He was out within five days.
After a month in hospital, Danny was allowed home with medication, but unfortunately was readmitted the following day. I spoke daily to nurses and weekly to the specialists who couldn’t really tell me how (or why) dad was suffering. The advice was, “pancreatitis is a game of Hurry Up and Wait”. Whilst he wouldn’t say it out loud, dad was in so much pain you could see it on his face and in his eyes. Doctors compared the pain to holding a red-hot iron to your internal organs.
We never lost faith that dad would win the fight. He was so strong and stoic. He kept his sense of humour throughout. “How are you feeling today, Danny?” the nurses would ask. Dad replied, “with my hands like everyone else”. Every day I called and asked how he was, he’d say “I’m still 5 foot 7, like yesterday”. I would always ask where the extra inch came from.
February 2019 was never-ending scans and tests. He was given a feeding tube, as whenever he tried to eat the pain would rare up again. It was a vicious cycle. At the end of the month, Danny had developed further complications due to acute pancreatitis.
By now, Dad weighed just 6 stone. The hospital decided to go ahead and fix an aneurysm that dad had, caused by the pancreatitis. Dad asked not to be resuscitated but, of course, got through surgery fine. My uncle and I went into visit the next day. Dad was bright, pain free and wanting the paper. He told my uncle and I off for talking whilst he was trying to concentrate on which horse he wanted to bet on – we looked at each other, smiled and both thought, “he’ll be ok”.
Dad was told he could eat. He a chose sausage roll and chips. One mouthful in, he jerked and clutched his stomach. He said, “that’s new” and asked for a nurse. Hours on, Dad was physically reeling in agony which he couldn’t hide. Painkillers didn’t even remotely relieve the pain that day, or for the following month.
On 1st April 2019, dad requested all treatment be stopped except pain relief. He was tired and said,“This body is knackered. I can’t eat or drink. What life is this”. Dad’s consultant tried to convince us otherwise, but I had to respect dad’s wishes. The consultant left us with, “Sometimes pancreatitis breaks the spirit. That’s often how we lose them”.
Later that morning, dad was finally pain-free and peaceful although heavily medicated. My uncle and I spent the day with him, talked about the old days and life in general. He cracked the odd joke. We placed a bet on a horse Burn Baby Byrne (our surname). Dad sent us home at 6pm; we told him how much we loved him and would be back tomorrow. I told him he was my superhero.
Dad passed away at 8.30pm from acute necrotising pancreatitis. His horse, Burn Baby Byrne came in first at 11:1. Through our heartbreak, we did smile that he left us on April Fools’ Day. We know he’s having a good laugh at that, and would expect us to also.
There is no effective treatment for pancreatitis. There is no cure
Guts UK is the only UK charity funding a research fellowship into pancreatitis. We are dedicated to finding an effective treatment, a cure for this misunderstood and underfunded condition.
People are suffering, people are dying, all because of a lack of knowledge about our guts. Join our community and champion our cause by donating to our life-saving research today.