This is Lee's story, told by his partner, Olwen.
“My name is Olwen, Lee’s partner of over nine years. We lived in Wales together with three gorgeous staffy dogs. You always knew when Lee was in the building, as he was so outgoing and mischievous. He was very kind-hearted, but wouldn’t beat around the bush!
Lee was fit and healthy, walking the dogs for hours each day. In 2017, he developed ‘lumps’ in his feet (plantar fibroma) which were painful, making it difficult to walk.
In 2019 Lee was diagnosed with diabetes. He was also suffering with a swollen stomach every now and then and would ask me to be careful not to touch his stomach. Despite multiple visits to Lee’s doctor, as we were also concerned about how often he was going to the toilet and how oily and foul-smelling his stools were, we were told it wasn’t anything to worry about.
I remember I’d eat rubbish sometimes, and he’d say, “How can you eat all of that junk and get away with it, yet I’m the one with diabetes?!” We’d laugh about this together.
Whenever Lee’s bloods were taken, they’d take more than usual as his blood was so fatty. The results were often confusing for the doctors. When we asked why, the doctor told us they’d look into it.
Lee’s bloods were showing high triglyceride levels. Lee’s consultant wrote to his doctor in September 2020 to say his diabetes is looking better, but his triglyceride levels are at a dangerous level. The consultant flagged that this can cause inflammation of the pancreas. But sadly, Lee’s consultant became quite unwell with COVID for a number of weeks, and his appointment was never rearranged.
On 27th June 2021, Lee told me we needed to go to the hospital. He was being sick and bringing up bile. While we waited for the taxi, he said, “I don’t think I’m coming out of this”. I told him to stop thinking like that. We waited in admissions, and then he was given a bed and strong painkillers. I remember him going to the toilet and we giggled, as he said he hoped no one walked past because of what he’d just had to do in there!
We were told that he would be kept in because of inflammation in his pancreas. In our naivety, we didn’t know that this could be serious and no one really explained pancreatitis to us. We decided after another few hours that I needed to go home to check on the dogs. I remember us both laughing when we said I love you and goodbye, as Lee shouted “I’ll haunt you!” as I left.
When I got home, I called the ward to ask how Lee was and they said he’d been taken into intensive care and put into an induced coma. Shock hit me. I wish they’d have called me, as I felt we didn’t get a proper chance to speak before.
Lee remained in intensive care for weeks. They tried to wake him up a few times, but he was never fully aware of what was happening. There were a few instances where I’d tell him I loved him, and he’d nod at me in acknowledgement. He’d hold and squeeze my hand too.
On the 5th August, Lee had a good day and it seemed things were looking good. He was still on oxygen, with all sorts of different tubes attached to him, his kidneys were failing and he had a tracheostomy (opening at the front of the neck to help him breathe). Lee was only using a small percentage of the oxygen and was able to do most of the breathing himself. The team looking after Lee couldn’t do enough for him, too. When I went to see him the following day on the 6th, he was clammy with rags on his head to try and cool him. I saw him as long as I was allowed, until I was sent home.
At 3am the following morning, an unknown number called and my body filled with dread. It was the ward telling me to come straight in as Lee isn’t doing well. I was panicking, trying to get a taxi, running up and down the street to find a neighbour who could help, crying and shouting.
When I got to the hospital with some of Lee’s family, we were told there was nothing more that could be done for him. We sat with him for hours until his heart stopped. He was just 51 years old.
In that moment, I lost my best friend. My family were also devastated, particularly my dad who was so fond of Lee, and Lee adored him back. We lost the life and soul of the party.
Though he didn’t drink, alcohol was listed as the cause of the pancreatitis on Lee’s death certificate. I’m sharing Lee’s story so people know about triglycerides as a cause of pancreatitis, as I’ll always wonder if he’d still be here if he got the right help.
I’m getting better day by day. Lee would leave me funny and daft notes around the house, which is one of many things I miss. There are more good days than bad now, and my hope now is that I can help others by sharing Lee’s story this Kranky Panky Campaign.”
There is no effective treatment for pancreatitis. There is no cure.
Guts UK is dedicated to finding an effective treatment, a cure for this misunderstood and underfunded condition. We are building a community affected by pancreatitis, comforted in knowing they’re not alone.