A Second Chance for the Woodcarver

woodcarverA ruptured aortic aneurysm is known to cause death almost instantly. Basically a tear in one’s main artery, it pours out blood at a heartbeat tempo and leaves a lifeless victim in its wake.  The mortality rate from a burst aneurysm is 90% even if you make it to the hospital. Only a few survive.

One of the survivors is Barry Lysaght, a master woodcarver who lives in the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Los Angeles in a small urban “village” called Topanga. The surgeon who ultimately saved his life calls him “one lucky bastard.”

Ruptured aneurysms are the 17th killer of men over 55 and are responsible for 12,000 deaths a year in the United States. Seventy-five percent of those afflicted die before they reach a hospital; 90% die in a hospital before they reach an operating room. Smoking, hypertension and the use of alcohol or drugs increase the risk factors. Women are rarely the victims.

Lysaght, described by paramedics as “a pleasant gentleman of 76,” was stricken suddenly with deep pain in his abdomen, back and legs, the textbook signs of an AAA-abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was its perfect victim, admitting an addiction to cigarettes, alcohol and drugs until he quit them all in the 1970s. About all he remembers from the day paramedics rushed him to the hospital is asking them, “Will I make it?” No one answered. Much of what followed is a blank. His memory has been wiped clean.

That he almost died is an understatement. He should have died. Only 17 units of blood and a surgeon’s skill in patching up two large tears in his abdominal artery saved him. He was in a coma for four days after surgery in a touch-and-go battle with death, and for a total of 31 days in the hospital, mostly in intensive care, and seven months thereafter in rehab.

Today, 50 pounds lighter, looking pale and lacking the energy he once displayed, Lysaght ponders why he was chosen to survive while most die of burst aneurysms. A gifted carver of museum-rated artifacts in wood, he feels he is meant for something but doesn’t know what. He thinks about it much of the time, but has yet to come up with an answer.

I find his story deeply personal. Some years ago a routine ultra-sound examination discovered two dangerous bulges in my abdominal artery. I underwent immediate surgery to repair them and came out thanking, what? Who? My luck?

I wonder too.

 

Photo credit: Allen Martinez

 

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