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Newsman Leon Harris Beats Pancreatitis Attack

By on October 1, 2013
leon harris in newsroom

News anchorman Leon Harris suffered a life-threatening case of necrotizing pancreatitis in August. Beating death twice in fact. The headline is he survived with a few lessons learned and a potentially lifesaving message for black families.

Leon Harris has been a mainstay on airwaves from his days at CNN to his current anchor role at WJLA where he was absent for much of August after a life threatening pancreatitis attack.  The initial hint of trouble did not prompt him to seek medical help.

 “I did the same thing that most guys do, I said just get me some Pepto-Bismol; I’ll be just fine. I will just, you know, power through.”

Later, his doctors told him it was as if a bomb had gone off in his pancreas. A recent CAT scan shows that half his pancreas is essentially dead, and later this year, Harris will undergo surgery to have his gall bladder removed because of the necrotizing pancreatitis.

According to our friends at WebMD, acute pancreatitis is a sudden inflammation that occurs over a short period of time. In the majority of cases, acute pancreatitis is caused by gallstones or heavy alcohol use. Other causes include medications, infections, trauma, metabolic disorders, and surgery. In up to 30% of people with acute pancreatitis, the cause is unknown.

The severity of acute pancreatitis may range from mild abdominal discomfort to a severe, life-threatening illness. Mr. Harris said the severity of the pain is something he’ll never forget.

“I felt like I gotten punched in the stomach by Mike Tyson, I mean it was that bad. I doubled over in pain; I hit the floor. The pain kept getting worse and I couldn’t stand up straight; it went on for a couple of hours.”

leonwifeHarris is still recovering from the incident but offered a key message to others, especially black families based on out-of-wedlock birth rates.

 “If you don’t know your family there is no way you can know your family history. And if we are not keeping our families together, we’re not exchanging information, and we are not staying in touch, we can be passing off ticking time bombs to our children and not even be aware of it and not even know it.”

Stressing the importance of knowing family medical history is something the medical community has long championed.

Mr. Harris added, ‘I know a lot about my mother’s side of the family because she raised me, I know next to nothing about my fathers side of the family and I’m betting there are a lot of people who look like me who are in the same situation.’

The charismatic newsman is back at work at WJLA and has and continues to make major gains in his recovery. When asked about his chances of survival if he was without the health insurance coverage he had as a prominent person in the nation’s capital, he answered simply, “If I had no coverage, I would not be here right now.”


Walker Tisdale III is the Executive Editor of Healthyblackmen.org and resides in Atlanta, GA. 

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