By Jess Grieveson-Smith
A teenager who was forced to drop out of school has chosen to have THREE organs removed in a desperate bid to lead a normal pain-free life.
Fern Cockrell, 17, from Barry, Wales, has been plagued by chronic pancreatitis for the past two years – something that left her in agony 24/7.
But the brave teen decided to undergo a radical 10-hour surgery – known as a pancreatectomy – to remove her pancreas, spleen and gall bladder as well as part of her stomach and small intestine.
Thankfully, the operation, which took place last Wednesday [February 27] was a success and despite now being a type one diabetic as a result of the surgery, Fern is expected to no longer be in excruciating pain.
Her mum, Sally-Ann Ashdown, 42, a medical secretary, is now sharing her story from her daughter’s hospital bed in a bid to raise awareness for the condition.
Sally said: “The thought of having three organs removed was terrifying for Fern but she was in such awful pain that she was willing to try anything.
“She has been on morphine for the past few years and she’s missed out on her teenage years due to it.
“After undergoing the surgery last week we’re now hopeful the pain will disappear.
“Doctors have been left baffled by her constant agony for the past two years as normally flare ups of pancreatitis last no longer than a few days.
“Fern was forced to drop out of school and have taken no GSCE’s yet but she will get back to studying as soon as she can.”
Fern has the inherited PRSS1 gene, which meant she had a 50 per cent chance of getting after her father, Matthew Cockrell, 44, was diagnosed with hereditary chronic pancreatitis.
While uncommon initially, Fern’s case has become especially rare, as she claims the pain didn’t subside.
Sally-Ann said: “There weren’t any obvious triggers that started her illness.
“She’d been in hospital five to six times a year, in pain, where she had nil by mouth for three days.
“But in August 2016, she fell sick again and the pain just never went away.
“She’d been ill since she was 18 months and they tried everything but she would always get worse on antibiotics or anything like that.
“It’s been over two years of constant pain, where she’s in hospital every other week.
“We needed a surgical option – Fern needed to get her life back.”
Fern woke up from her induced coma on Friday morning and her mum couldn’t have been more relieved after the risky operation.
The removal of her pancreas triggered diabetes as this is the organresponsible for secreting insulin.
Sally added: “It was a massive operation and it took ten hours.
“She had been ventilated and sedated in the intensive care unit afterwards.
“She woke from her coma the following morning and stayed in ICU until that evening but was back on the general ward by Friday.
“She’s tubed up everywhere but day by day these tubes will go.
“She has a wound right across her tummy but the agonising chronic pancreatitis pains that resulted in leaving school with no GCSEs, being unable to work, living in hospital every other week – should go.
“She’ll get her life back – you can manage diabetes but you can’t manage unmanageable pain.
“Fern wants to live, rather than exist, and we can only hope that this operation has done this for her.”
Matthew Alsante, Executive Director of the National Pancreas Foundation, which supports people like Fern said, “We came across Fern’s story and wanted to break the stigma that pancreatitis is about adults and people that misuse alcohol.
“In Fern’s case, her pancreas was so badly damaged, she qualified for the Total Pancreatectomy with Islet Auto Transplantation (TPIAT), which means that she had her pancreas removed and the islet cells that make insulin transferred to her liver.
“Our thoughts are with Fern for a safe recovery and for her to enjoy her new life, pain free.”