Personal Stories: Ben Bynes

Brian, I have an aortic dissection success story to share with you. It is my experience so far. I wish someone had a story like mine to share when I was trying to land on my feet but not quite sure where I was landing. Like many of the stories, I was depressed, scared, and angry at the reality of what my 31 yr. old self was dealing with. Since waking up to my bad dream come true, I have been trying (and succeeding) to get back much of the life that I had before.

In April, 2001, I was at work. We had a busy morning of taking all the equipment and hose off of our fire engine to send it out of town for service, Next , we did a wet drill with a neighboring department. On our way back to the station we came across green paint going down the storm drain, and dealt with cleaning up the mess. We had just cleared from that detail when We got paged out for a bicyclist unconscious and bleeding from the head. I was a brand new paramedic, and also two weeks out from my final driving test on the aerial ladder. Basically I was driving and taking the lead medical role on the call. I was happy to see the ambulance medics show up.

We loaded the patient into the ambulance where I was taking his blood pressure when suddenly I felt bad pain in my guts and back. It was bad, but I didn't want to steal our patient's thunder so I said to the ambulance medics," I'm not feeling so good myself fella's" They chuckled and said I could go with them to the hospital. I declined, but upon exiting the ambulance I told my captain that I was in pain and didn't think I could drive. He said I looked pale and I said maybe we should just drive to the E.R. They drove me back downtown and called dispatch for an ambulance.

The same ambulance came back after taking our patient. I waited in the E.R. in a small room in the waiting room. I was downplaying my symptoms, but it was getting unbearable. Finally, as I lay there writhing in pain I grabbed the E.M.T. and told him that they had to do something for my pain, that I was dying and felt like I was having an aortic aneurism. He passed word along and I got moved to a real hospital bed in the E.R. I may not have all the facts and timing right, but I believe that the Physicians Assistant , and E.M.T. were very instrumental in my getting treated for more than back pain. The P.A. was unable to detect a palpable pedal pulse in my left foot.

I downplayed again saying I had a hard time finding pedal pulses too. These guys were starting to get serious and ordered up a C.T. scan. I finally called my wife, as I wanted to wait until I knew what was happening before worrying her because she was nine months pregnant. I told her to come to the E.R. and that I didn't know what was wrong, maybe I hurt my back lifting the patient, or maybe I had real bad gastric cramps. I was only 31, and couldn't be in serious trouble..... right? ........ WRONG!!!!!.. After the C.T. I was told by the doctor that I had "Torn " my aorta and needed emergency surgery. "Open Heart Surgery????" I asked in disbelief. Yes he said.

Things really took off from there. The helicopter flight crew was standing by, and family members gathered around me with tears in their eyes. Thank god for morphine, because I was feeling cheerful enough to comfort them and tell them that I wasn't going to die. I truly felt it and meant it. The doctor said that Stanford couldn't take me because their teams were in the middle of surgery at the time, bur that our small hospital did have a surgeon on duty who had done the surgery...once! Not on me he doesn't............ no offense Doctor, but you have had me here for two and a half hours and I'm not dead yet, PLEASE find me somewhere else to go, What about UCSF or a teaching hospital somewhere, anywhere!! He went back to the phone and tried UCSF. While he did that I turned to the flight nurses and said, "If you two fu#!ers leave here without me, and I live, I promise I will find you! Don't leave me!" I guess my captain threatened them as well saying they would have a hard time lifting off without me with a fire engine chained to their helicopter.

Anyhow, UCSF was able to accept me and I gave my wife what might have been my last kiss goodbye and told her I would see her in S.F. and that I wasn't going to die. The flight nurses doped me up and All I remember was thinking that I had been born at UCSF 31 years ago, was I doing like a salmon and swimming back up to where I was born to die? was I going to be one of the lucky salmon to live to do it again...?

I woke up momentarily as they transferred me to a ground ambulance at SFO to taxi me to UCSF because they don't have a helipad. The next thing I remember was people telling me not to struggle and to be careful of my incision. INCISION!!?? WHAT INCISION???..... OOOH! that incision, It was coming back to me in a horrible foggy memory, and now I was on the other side of surgery. One of my step sisters had a tale to tell that I don't remember about the extabation process when they took me off the breathing machine. I guess they had to put me under three times because I was struggling to breathe and looking at my sister mouthing the words "Im choking" she said it was traumatizing for her and wanted to make sure I didn't have any hard feelings. I told her a few days later that I didn't remember any of it. My throat was sore for months though.

My surgery replaced a 30mm section of my aortic arch with the Dacron tubing, my valve was spared, and re suspended, Bio-glue was applied to the flaps where need be, and a Teflon tube was inserted across the top of my groin as a femoral artery bypass from right to left femoral arteries to restore proper blood flow to my left foot. I had dissected my aorta from the arch all the way into my iliac and renal arteries.

I guess all the stress got to my wife, but I also feel like my unborn daughter met me as I was teetering between this world and whatever world I may have been headed for and decided to be born to show me the way back home. My surgery was finished the morning of the 8th and my daughter was born the 9th, upstairs in the same hospital, my wife had a little surgery of her own, a C-section. I have a picture of me with staples, tubes, and a newborn baby on my chest. It looks like I had the c-section. That child is now 3-1/2 years old.

I am back at work full time full duty, and my CUT. scan two weeks ago shows no changes. I control my blood pressure and each day that I live becomes another reassurance of my vitality although in reality I'm one day closer to my inevitable mortality. A strange paradox. I have played in basketball games against the 49ers, caught tuna fish on my boat, and surfed in California and a contest in Hawaii. I'm thankful for the ability to be alive and to be able to share with my children and try to stop and smell the roses as much as I can. I share this as a story of success hopefully to inspire and give hope, in this cruel world of life and death. A senior competitor in Hawaii shared this with me when I said I had been lucky........He said "You've been more than lucky....You've been blessed..... now all you have to do is be a blessing."

These words were powerful and I still struggle with what I'm supposed to do now. What was I put on this planet to do? I'm not sure I can live up to the expectation, but perhaps this story will serve as a small blessing to someone in need of hope. I have felt the pain of being knocked to my knees when moments before I had been standing tall. I know how scary it is to not know how long I'll be alive to see my family grow up. I realize now that the rules have not changed, I could die any time and that has always been the case. I guess I'm just a bit more aware of the same rules that I have been playing by since I took my first breath 35 years ago. Here's to the next 35!!!


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