This story has been told by Oli's mum, Sue, with help from Oli's dad, Stu, and brothers, Danny and Ben.
As a child, Oli was full of life. He’d torment his younger brothers, Danny and Ben, and loved football. He was selected to play for Lancashire whilst at school!
At 17 years old, Oli became ill with a griping stomach pain after returning from holiday. We thought it was a stomach bug, until Oli started vomiting violently. At A&E, Oli’s pain was worsening and travelling into his back. Oli was admitted and at age 17, in 2002, Oli was told he had acute pancreatitis. Oli was a young man. Handsome, funny and very popular, especially with the girls! He was full of life with a wicked sense of humour, yet kind and sensitive.
Oli didn’t want pancreatitis to define him. It is heart-breaking to see your child in pain. As his pain would come and go, he’d sometimes drink with friends. The temptation to act as a normal young adult proved too difficult for him to overcome sometimes.
Over the coming years, we were back and forth to hospital. On one occasion, I remember a doctor asking Oli, referring to opiate painkillers, “Have you come for a hit?” I was horrified. One time, Oli called from A&E to ask if I’d call the department, as no one would listen or believe he had pancreatitis.
Oli met a girl and had a beautiful daughter. Unfortunately, Oli’s relationship ended with his partner, and he moved back in with us.
It was in 2008 when Oli received his diagnosis that the pancreatitis had become chronic pancreatitis. There were a lot of hospital visits around this time. Oli would usually be treated with opiates at hospital, or sent home with them.
Oli was now in a relationship, leading a fuller and happier life. Oli had just got engaged to his partner, around the time that Stu became very ill in 2011. Stu relied on kidney dialysis three times a week.
2013 and 2014 were difficult years for Oli. He’d developed diabetes and was only just managing to work. I’d constantly call the hospital for help. Oli’s partner was so supportive, but his relationship with his daughter suffered. He was so ill that he couldn’t do much with her, a shadow of his former self.
Oli was finally referred to our nearest specialist hospital. The consultant apologised for not seeing him sooner. Oli was given the next available bed. Oli finally felt listened to and understood. He had stents fitted in his bile duct every six to nine months, and had finally been given digestive enzymes with his food and drink. He’d gone years without these prescription enzymes, we couldn’t believe this was a treatment for his digestion.
In 2015, Oli’s relationship with his partner and daughter deteriorated. He was so unwell, in such pain, doing his best to manage both his diabetes and pancreatitis. This was Oli’s lowest point, and he even suffered a few seizures, when he was told he can’t drive anymore.
Oli had surgery in 2018 which we remember helping him for a bit, though he’d still spend time in hospital. At this point, Oli depended on his opiate-based painkillers. This, and the fact other painkillers that wouldn’t even touch pancreatitis pain, made it difficult for us all to manage. Rehabilitation centres couldn’t help Oli due to him having opiates on prescription, though we did receive help from his social worker and a local addiction organisation.
Oli was also reunited with his dog, Nancy, that he’d shared with a previous partner. She meant the world to Oli, and gave him something to get up for in the morning. He had a new lease of live. But health wise, things had slowed because of COVID.
In 2021, Oli was better. He was looking forward to rebuilding his life and relationships, and spent so much time with his nieces and nephews. He’d see us almost daily for a cuppa and a chat. But on Wednesday 8th December 2021, he called in horrendous pain. I was in the middle of dialysis with Stu so Oli’s brother Danny took him. Danny hadn’t seen Oli in so much pain before, but Oli had been in and out of hospital since just 17, so this wasn’t unusual for us.
The following day, we went to pick Oli up who told us he’d been discharged (but later discovered he’d discharged himself). Friday morning came and I hadn’t heard from Oli, so after dialysis with Stu, I went to Oli’s flat and that’s where I found him. Oli had passed away aged just 37 from a twisted small bowel in the early hours of the morning, causing intestinal ischemia (decrease of blood flow into the bowels).
A note from Oli's brothers, Danny & Ben:
“Oli was our big brother, the person we looked up to, our guide throughout youth, and our protector.
He was kind, caring, charismatic and was devilishly funny. A contagious character with a verve for life.
He helped shape us as human beings.
Watching him suffer over the last 20 years due to his health issues was incredibly hard, but seeing his life deteriorate in consequence to this, was the most difficult.
All Oli wanted was to get his health back, and his life back; to write his own inspirational comeback story. However, the illnesses and issues proved too much for him to overcome.
We loved our brother dearly and as a family, we are still coming to terms with the fact that we will never be able to speak to him again.”
It wasn’t a surprise when Oli’s funeral was completely packed with people, all with beautiful memories to share. We played his favourite music.
It means so much to us to be able to help other families in his name by sharing Oli’s story today and fundraising for Guts UK. Oli would’ve wanted that, so much. All Oli wanted was to be fit and help others. We will continue his legacy in this way, doing as much as we can in his memory. He’d also smile that his dog, Nancy, lives with us and is adored by the whole family.
Oli lives on in many ways. Telling my son’s story has been the most painful thing I’ve ever done, but so therapeutic. I hope to feel at peace, with a sense of closure. We want people to learn from Oli’s story, and for families who have lost a loved one to know they’re never alone.
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.