Gillian Wright health: Star left with unbearable pain due to life-threatening illness

EastEnders: Gillian Wright on why she didn’t shave head for role

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Having won multiple awards for her portrayal of Jean in the popular BBC soap, Gillian has also appeared in other popular television dramas including Holby City and Coronation Street. Away from acting, the star has seen her fair share of drama, including being rushed to A&E with severe stomach pains a few years back, which turned out to be acute pancreatitis – a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed over a short period of time.

In a rare interview with the Sunday Mirror back in 2016, Gillian spoke about her health ordeal, saying: “It was touch and go.

“It’s no exaggeration to say I had a real brush with death.

“I suddenly felt this sharp pain in my stomach and it didn’t go away.

“I made it home, a neighbour dialled 999 and I was whisked to hospital.”

The NHS explains that the pancreas is a small organ located behind the stomach which helps with digestion.

When inflamed, sudden symptoms such as feeling or being sick, diarrhoea, a high temperature of 38C or more and severe pain in the centre of your tummy can emerge.

Despite the great advances in critical care medicine over the past 20 years, The National Pancreas Foundation explains that the mortality rate of acute pancreatitis has remained at about 10 percent – something that Gillian thought may have happened to her.

“I was so ill my parents flew down from the Highlands of Scotland to look after me. And my sister, Lois, and nephew, Stanley, were frantic,” the actress continued to say.

“The pain was unbearable. If somebody had given me the choice of living with that pain a day longer or swallowing a pill to end it all, I’d have taken the tablet.

“No question. It was unbelievable.”

The most common cause of acute pancreatitis is stones in the gallbladder which pass through the common bile duct to enter the small intestines.

Stones that get stuck in the common bile duct impinge on the main pancreatic duct, causing an obstruction of the normal flow of pancreatic fluid and leading to pancreatic injury. Gallstones can also cause a backflow of bile into the pancreatic duct, also resulting in injury.

Pancreatitis can also be caused by alcoholism or genetics, passed down from family members who have also suffered from the condition, which is seemingly what happened in Gillian’s case.

In order to ease her agony, Gillian was prescribed morphine, a strong painkiller that is used to treat severe pain, but she soon experienced adverse side effects to the medication.

Gillian added: “It makes you high as a kite. One night, I was found at the foot of a bed giving a Shakespearean monologue.

“The poor woman suddenly woke up and blurted out ‘Oh my God, it’s Jean Slater and she’s having one of her funny turns’.”

Luckily, Gillian made a total recovery and was back to normal by June of that year. But for others with the condition they can develop severe acute pancreatitis, which in turn can lead to other severe health conditions such as pancreatic necrosis.

In order to try and avoid this, the condition is treated in hospitals where individuals will be closely monitored for signs of serious problems and side effects. The NHS explains that having acute pancreatitis can cause you to become dehydrated, so fluids are given through a tube into your vein to prevent dangerous dehydration.

Other forms of treatment aim to control the pain an individual may be experiencing and to provide nutritional support if patients cannot eat after an initial 48 hours.

The underlying cause of the condition will also be treated. For those with gallstones, a procedure known as an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) may be done to help remove gallstones. Or the gallbladder will be removed in its entirety.

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