Leon Harris has been absent from the airwaves since the start of August, but that was no vacation. It was a near-death experience.


Home now, the WJLA (Channel 7) anchor told our colleague Paul Farhi on Wednesday that he spent nearly three weeks in the hospital — and was in and out of consciousness for several days — with what turned out to be a wicked case of necrotizing pancreatitis.

Where’d that come from? All Harris knows is that he collapsed at home with a terrible stomachache the morning of Aug. 1. At Suburban Hospital, doctors puzzled over the sometimes-deadly infection. Harris, a fit 52-year-old, said they quizzed him on his drinking (beer on weekends), family history (a couple of diabetic relatives) and vitamin supplements, but found no answers. “It could have been a perfect storm,” he said. “They just don’t know.”

And Harris, airlifted to the Johns Hopkins ICU in a worsening stupor, was beyond knowing. He knew how serious it was only when he hazily glimpsed his mother, brother and out-of-town friends at his bedside. His blood pressure raged at a level that put him at risk of a stroke; his lungs filled with fluid; he tried to tear out his feeding tubes. At one point, he found himself relaxing to welcome death — but then envisioned his wife, Dawn, and thought: “I can’t quit. I don’t want to go to Hell for quitting.”

He woke up, thinking he’d been out for two days. No, it had been nine days, Dawn told him.

And, just as mysteriously as it appeared, his illness vanished. Harris, who hopes to return to work Monday, is embracing a few lifestyle changes: less fat, more veggies and, sadly, no more weekend beers.

“Who wants to go to a ballgame to buy an $8 Sprite?” he sighed.

Earlier: News Man: WJLA Channel 7 bet its future on Leon Harris. Signs are, it’s beginning to pay off, 2/28/10

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