Surgeon relives Gaby’s lifesaving op

Surgeon Mike Wilkinson who operated on Gaby Scanlon.
Surgeon Mike Wilkinson who operated on Gaby Scanlon.

The surgeon who treated a teenager who needed an emergency operation to remove her stomach has spoken for the first time about the rare and “potentially fatal” surgery.

Specialist upper gastro-intestinal surgeon Mike Wilkinson carried out reconstruction surgery on Gaby Scanlon for spontaneous rupture of the stomach.

The four-hour procedure took place at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary after Gaby drank a cocktail containing liquid nitrogen.

Although similar gastro-intestinal procedures are a fairly regular occurrence, the procedure carried out on Gaby was, Mr Wilkinson said, “rare and historically a potentially fatal condition.”

Up until the 1990s just 70 cases had been recorded worldwide.

And Mr Wilkinson believes there has been only one other incident involving liquid nitrogen.

“It’s an uncommon and very serious condition which has a very high mortality rate,” he said.

“However, in this day and age we would hope that a young and fit patient would survive if they are treated quickly.”

Symptoms include vomiting, excrutiating abdominal pain, shock and breathlessness and marked abdominal distention and tenderness.

The condition can in some cases lead to septicaemia and multi-organ failure.

Gaby’s case was the first time Mr Wilkinson had seen a spontaneous rupture of the stomach, although the treatment is similar to other gastro-intestinal procedures.

The operation involves surgeons reconstructing a stomach using part of the small intestine, to allow the absorption of food to continue.

Mr Wilkinson, who works across Morecambe Bay and at the Royal Preston Hospital, praised the work of the entire team involved in the treatment of patients such as Gaby.

“The treatment involves a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses and technicians, starting with the emergency admissions team and going through to dieticians, the rehab team and in some cases psychological support,” he said.

After care is vital to cases such as Gaby’s, since the condition is life-changing.

“Many patients can live a long and healthy life but inevitably there are some compromises they will have to make to their lifestyle,” Mr Wilkinson said.

Patients will generally have a smaller capacity for food, their weight will decrease and they will suffer reduced Vitamin D levels.

They may also be more prone to osteoporosis in later life and will need continued Vitamin B12 injections.

Gaby was out celebrating her 18th birthday at Oscar’s Wine Bar and Bistro in Lancaster in September when she drank Jagermeister shots laced with liquid nitrogen.

The Ripley St Thomas CE Academy pupil said this week: “I’d been warned by the barman the drink might make me a bit gassy, so I didn’t think too much of it, but then my stomach started to expand and I felt sick.

“Soon I was doubled up with pain. People were asking me if I was all right, but I couldn’t say anything because my stomach hurt so much.”

Gaby spent three weeks in hospital following the operation.

“It was just a gimmick; I probably would never have drunk that shot if it hadn’t looked exciting,” she admitted.

“The first drink didn’t seem to affect me at all, or my friends, but within seconds of drinking the second one, I felt instant pain.

“It could have been much worse and I’m very grateful to be alive, but it should never have happened in the first place.”