Rare whisky remedy memorable, says doctor

Last updated 05:00 06/12/2012
Denis Duthie
FAIRFAX NZ
CHEERS: Denis Duthie owes his life to Dr Allister Williams after the Taranaki physician made the call to infuse scotch into his stomach.

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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 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 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 Mr Duthie's life by making the call to infuse scotch into his stomach.

Dr Williams, a kidney specialist originally from Cape Town, South Africa, said it was an incredibly rare case. "I'll remember that for the rest of my life."

The story made headlines around the world and Mr Duthie said he had been fielding hundreds of phone calls from as far away as Russia.

When he 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.

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 buildup 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, which was then infused into Mr Duthie's stomach via a tube through his nose.

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

Dr Williams said in all his years of medicine he had never worked on 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, he said. People usually died if their pH levels dropped below 6.8. 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.

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As for the Johnnie Walker, Dr Williams did not know why that particular brand of alcohol was chosen. "It doesn't have to be Johnnie Walker. It can be any ethanol."

Mr Duthie said he didn't realise how close he was to dying nor how much effort went into saving his life. "It gives you that grateful to be alive feeling." Fairfax NZ

- Taranaki Daily News

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