Whisky 'Cure': Doctor, patient in high spirits

Last updated 05:00 06/12/2012
Dr Allister Williams, right, saved Denis Duthie
LIFE SAVER: Dr Allister Williams, right, saved Denis Duthie’s life by making the call to infuse scotch into his stomach to combat suspected methanol poisoning.

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A Taranaki doctor who saved a "blind drunk" man's life by prescribing a bottle of tube-fed whisky says it was the most memorable moment of his medical career.

Last week it was revealed that in July this year doctors infused Taranaki chef Denis Duthie with Johnnie Walker whisky after a heavy vodka drinking session nearly killed him.

Mr Duthie had lost his sight at a party and was admitted to Taranaki Base Hospital's intensive care unit with abnormally high acid levels in his blood.

Yesterday he was reunited with Dr Allister Williams - the man who saved his life by making the call to infuse scotch into his stomach.

Dr Williams, a kidney specialist originally from Cape Town, South Africa, said he would never forget the rare case.

"I'll remember that for the rest of my life," Dr Williams said.

The story made headlines around the world and was picked up by such news agencies as TIME Magazine, the Daily Mail, Huffington Post and Times of India.

Mr Duthie said he had been fielding hundreds of phone calls from as far away as Russia.

When Mr Duthie was admitted to hospital, doctors suspected the 65-year-old diabetic was suffering from methanol poisoning.

"The amount of acids in his blood which we measured was very high and we usually don't see patients survive with these amounts," Dr Williams said.

Consumption of bootleg spirits and a variety of household products could cause methanol poisoning.

Symptoms included visual blurring, blindness, inebriation, sedation and death.

Mr Duthie was put on a dialysis machine, connected to a ventilator to support his breathing and infused with alcohol, containing ethanol.

Dr Williams, a consultant physician nephrologist, said to treat methanol poisoning, patients needed to be infused with ethanol to counter the methanol and stop the build up of deadly toxins.

With no readily available medical alcohol at hand, a medical registrar had to fetch the next best thing, Dr Williams said.

The registrar produced a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red label - not Johnnie Walker Black label as some world media had reported, Dr Williams said.

The whisky was then infused into Mr Duthie's stomach via a tube through the nose.

Dr Williams said when he saw the story in the Daily News he felt a great sense of satisfaction.

Most doctors were taught the quirky cure for methanol poisoning at medical school but very rarely did the opportunity arise to put it into practice, he said.

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Dr Williams said in all his years of medicine he had never seen a case like Mr Duthie's.

"I've never in my life seen so much abnormality in a blood result."

The normal pH level in blood was 7.4, and people usually died if pH levels dropped below 6.8, he said.

Mr Duthie came in with pH levels well below that.

"At that stage I did prepare the family that it was unlikely he would survive." Dr Williams said Mr Duthie's alcohol levels during his time in ICU were kept at about three times the legal driving limit.

As for the Johnnie Walker, Dr Williams did not know why that was chosen.

"It doesn't have to be Johnnie Walker.

"It can be any ethanol."

While the outcome was positive and the tale was one to remember, there was a serious message.

"We need to look at this from a public health perspective."

People needed to be aware that methanol was found in a range of household products and consumption could be fatal.

Automotive antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, solvents, cleaners, fuels and other industrial products contained high concentrations of methanol.

It could also be caused by consuming or inhaling illicit distillation, such as moonshine.

Most serious poisoning occurred following ingestion and inhalation.

Mr Duthie said he did not realise how close he was to dying or how much effort went into saving his life.

"It gives you that grateful to be alive feeling," Mr Duthie said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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