He’s ‘Lucky To Be Alive’ After Pancreatitis Caused by Alcohol Abuse

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After 40 years of social and eventually heavy drinking, Keith Bunnell was diagnosed with pancreatitis. He was told that if he didn’t stop drinking he would be dead in six months. He quit for a week.

Four months later, the successful electrical designer and father of four had another bout of pancreatitis, this time much worse.

He landed in Backus Hospital for 10 days, where a blood clot burst and he had two surgeries before being taken by LIFE STAR to Hartford Hospital. There, he had two mores surgeries, went through 17 pints of blood and was put in a medically induced coma. Overall he spent about four months in the hospital before going home two weeks before Memorial Day.

Despite nearly dying, it wasn’t enough to change his lifestyle. His disease took over again. He was sitting at the kitchen table Memorial Day morning when he had a heart attack. After another procedure and being put on medication for life, it didn’t take long for him to go back to drinking.

“None of this was enough to stop me from drinking,” said Bunnell, who was a speaker at Natchaug Hospital’s annual reception on Oct. 15. “You would think it would…this disease is horrible. There are people dying left and right.”

Bunnell wound up in the Backus emergency room six times in the next four months. The last time his caregivers said “we can’t help you anymore. Only you can help yourself.”

A Natchaug recovery support specialist in the ER vowed to get him into a substance abuse program. The next day he got a call from Rushford in Middletown and they asked him if he could be there at 9 am – the time he would usually be at the package store when it opened.

This time, something clicked. He didn’t give in to his addiction. His wife drove him to Rushford, where he spent five days in detox and 21 days in its residential facility.

“After that I felt alive,” said Bunnell, who at the time of the Natchaug annual reception had been sober for 81 days. “The staff was fabulous. The rehab I got was tremendous. This time was different.”

His next stop would be Natchaug’s CarePlus intensive outpatient program in Groton, which helped give him the coping skills he needed to remain in recovery.

There’s no more deceiving his work colleagues; no more lying to his family or fooling himself. He is honest about his disease. He enjoys going to work every day. He feels healthier than he has in many years thanks to the Hartford HealthCare network of care – Backus Hospital, Hartford Hospital, Rushford and Natchaug.

“Everyone had positive attitudes,” he said. “They kept telling me I could make it. I finally began to believe that. From this day forward I am going to be a healthy human being and I am going to be productive. I can’t praise everyone enough. I am lucky to be alive.”

For information about MATCH and other addiction services at Hartford HealthCare, click here.

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