In February 2023, Brian collapsed and was taken into intensive care in hospital. He had multiple organ failure and severe acute necrotising pancreatitis. Less than three weeks later, he passed away with his wife, Karen, by his side.
Tell us about your family
“I’m Karen, I’m 51 years old and have two sons, Owen (22) and Ryan (20) who are both in their final year of University. Brian and I met while working in Jersey in 1991, I was originally from Hertfordshire and he was from Dublin. We moved to Devon and married in 1998.
Brian was a kind, charming and charismatic man. He was very proud to be Irish, known locally as ‘Irish Brian’. He’d do anything for anybody, worked on the railways, and loved watching Rugby with the boys.”
When did Brian start to struggle with his mental health and relationship with alcohol?
“I think we can trace the start back to 2015 – Brian lost both his parents within 4 years of each other. When they were poorly he was back and forth to Ireland. It was horrible for him feeling far away, and when they passed away he struggled with grief. Then COVID happened which was just hard for everyone. He sometimes worked night shifts and struggled with this too. Brian had always enjoyed a drink and was the life and soul of every party, but he started drinking more. He knew his drinking was taking over our lives and he tried alcohol rehab for a month in December 2021. He became depressed and wasn’t the upbeat Brian we all knew and loved.”
When did Brian go into hospital?
“In February 2023, I was away visiting the boys at University. Brian collapsed and called a friend for help. Paramedics took him into hospital. A nurse called, she said he was in intensive care with multiple organ failure and severe acute necrotising pancreatitis. It happened incredibly fast.
We all rushed there, as did his siblings from Ireland. Brian was relying on a ventilator to breathe, in an induced coma. This began the 19-day long ICU rollercoaster. Doctors made it clear that Brian was very sick. We couldn’t believe the machines, effort and people needed to keep Brian alive. He often had fluid drained from his abdomen and he developed sepsis and cellulitis.
On day 15, they managed to wake Brian. Brian’s brother, David, called saying, “He recognises me!” The boys and I rushed to hospital, and Brian grabbed Ryan’s arm and gave Owen the biggest smile. He’d blink to communicate with us, it felt like a huge breakthrough, but I could see the fear in Brian’s eyes.”
How was Brian after that?
“On day 19, I arrived at hospital and was aware of lots of staff near his room. Eventually I was pulled into a room and was told he’d taken a very bad turn. The consultant told me to get the kids here, but they both had a 2-hour drive. The consultant explained he might not be able to keep Brian alive for them to say goodbye.
It was the only day I was on my own with Brian. Since he’d been in ICU, we were always surrounded with family. I wonder if he chose this moment. A nurse helped me calm my panic, and I sat with Brian. I told him how loved he was and how much he’d be missed. I told him what he needed to hear. It was peaceful when he passed away. The boys didn’t arrive back in time and I think it was meant to happen this way.”
How were the weeks after Brian’s death?
“We just felt shock and disbelief, he was only 55. My sister-in-law and two of my school friends basically moved in, ran the house and kept us alive with food shops, cooking, cleaning and just being there. Our Irish family helped with organising his funeral, it was all surreal. Everybody was so shocked, they’d say, “I didn’t think he was that bad”. No one knew was pancreatitis was, or what it could do.“
How are you all doing more recently?
“It’s not even a year since Brian’s death yet, and we wake some mornings in disbelief. It was such a shock to hear that of those that go into intensive care with pancreatitis, around 25% will die.
The house feels very empty now, it’s just me and the dog. Having supportive friends and family makes all the difference, I know both the boys have the same at University too. Brian had so much love to give, so his loss is felt greatly. The boys and I talk very openly about Brian and our mental health and often call one another to just cry or talk.
Why are you sharing your story today?
“Though we worried about his health, particularly with the heavy drinking, all the regular health checks he ever had returned as normal. We thought if Brian’s liver was okay, it can’t be too bad. Not once did we think about his pancreas. My husband was just a bloke that had a tough period in his life, and he couldn’t cope. If it can happen to us, it can happen to anybody.
We all wonder, “Are my moles okay? Have I got a lump in my breast? Is my liver okay?”. It’s time we all started thinking about the pancreas. Owen, Ryan and I feel very passionate about raising awareness. We’re telling Brian’s story to help others and start conversation about pancreatitis. When the time is right, we have big fundraising plans for Guts UK in Brian’s memory.”
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.