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Minneapolis man learns importance of getting care after pancreatitis scare

Young man’s pancreatitis scare shows importance of going to the doctor
Young man’s pancreatitis scare shows importance of going to the doctor 03:16

MINNEAPOLIS — It's not easy to get men to go to the doctor, and data backs that up.

According to a Cleveland Clinic survey, only 50% of men even consider getting a physical. Seventy-two percent say they'd rather do household chores than go see a doctor.

This is the story of a young Minneapolis man who learned the importance of getting seen the hard way.

At this point, Will Smith makes health care look easy. But it's been a brutally hard road.

It started with a stomach ache while he was at work.

"I just started feeling really weird, I thought it was like, it was just nausea and I had to go in the bathroom and throw up. But it was after that I started feeling these really weird pains in my stomach, and I didn't know what it was," he said.

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And the healthy 25-year-old would stay home for a week, wrenched in pain. He was sweating profusely and endlessly thirsty, his only relief was lying down. But still, he thought it was a bad bug. His mom, who has seen a lot of sick people as a patient care coordinator at Hennepin Healthcare, thought it was something worse.

"You know, you know your child, you know the looks in their eyes, you know their body, you know how they speak and I got up in the morning and I look in his eyes and I know he did not look like my child," Apple Smith said. "He looked sick, he almost looked like he was on death bed." 

"At first I didn't want to go. I did not want to go to the hospital," Will Smith said. "I thought it was just like, 'Oh I can — I'll be fine and I can just sit in my room and just wait it out and see where it goes,'"

"And I said, 'No, we need to call the ambulance, you need to go in,'" Apple Smith said. "And there's no choice, I am not giving you a choice, you need to go in."

And she was right. When he got to Hennepin Healthcare, his body was failing. He had pancreatitis. The organ that's supposed to regulate blood sugar was literally dying and necrosis was setting in.


"With pancreatitis sometimes you get this really aggressive inflammatory response, so his heart was racing and he was spiking fevers on and off during his hospital stay," Dr. Dave Kahat said.

A stay that would last five long weeks as Will Smith was violently ill and lost 40 pounds. 

"It's OK to be vulnerable, it's OK to tell people that you are in pain and you are not OK," Will Smith said. "It's OK to tell people that. Take my story for example, I almost died not listening to my body, trying to be a tough guy, it's not worth it."

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Will Smith learned another big lesson, too.

"Will will probably take away that he will listen to his mom more often and Apple will probably remind him of that," Kahat said.

"She's always right, I gotta listen to her," Will Smith said.

Pancreatitis is a chronic illness. Will Smith's is under control. He now has many appointments and checkups, and he shows up with a smile. 

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