Personal Stories: Leonard Mason


October 22, 2005, my wife and I were attending an American Correctional Association(I was a Lieutenant at a prison in Dillwyn, Virginia) conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia.(my wife went along to be at the beach, she couldn't attend the classes or luncheon)  I remember standing in the hallway of the hotel looking out the window at the ocean(8:30 am) and my left leg suddenly went completely numb; no feeling whatsoever. 

 I did not feel any pain.  There were classes I was suppose to attend for the morning and I attended them all.  I had difficulty walking because of no feeling in my leg, but I managed.  I attended the luncheon which was at 12:30 PM. I wanted to hear the key speaker, Ron Angelone.  When his speech was over, I excused appetite. I felt really bad, my leg was still numb, but there was no pain.  I began walking down a flight of stairs and became very weak.  I managed to make it to the outside of the hotel. 

 I called my wife on my cell phone and had her bring the car to the front of the hotel, because I couldn't walk any further.  She did. I climbed into the back seat of the car and told her I really didn't feel all that great and told her how I was feeling.  She insisted that we go to a hospital, but I insisted that we just go home.(3 hours away).  When we got home.  I felt better, but my leg was still numb.  My mother was at my house babysitting our children. 

She saw me limping and insisted that I go to the hospital to get looked at.  I told them I would be fine and went to bed.  I kept thinking while laying down, that the feeling was too strange.  I got up, took about 6 baby aspirin( nothing else in the medicine cabinet at the time) Got dressed and told my wife we needed to the hospital(33 miles away) to be on the safe side. 

We were approximately 2 miles from my house when I felt an extremely severe pain to the top of my head that I had never experienced.  I managed to maintain consciousness and told my wife to call my mother to call the local Rescue Squad to meet us at the station because I really didn't think I was going to make it to the hospital.  (now she was scared. I assured her I was ok and to just concentrate on driving)  The pain had only lasted a few seconds, then went away.  The Rescue personnel checked me out.  Everything was perfect....blood pressure was perfect, low heart rate, normal temp..I told them my blood pressure is normally 140/94 or so...not 128/68.

They asked if I still wanted to go to the hospital, I told them I did because my left leg was still numb, and I really didn't like the pain in my head I felt earlier.  We arrived at Lynchburg General Hospital in Lynchburg, Virginia at approximately 10:30 PM.  Test were done.  Doctors could not figure out what was wrong.  I was told I was going to be admitted to a room to stay the night just as a precautionary measure.  About an hour or so later, an ER doctor told my wife and I they would like to conduct a CT scan before I was sent up.  Approximately 10 minutes upon returning to the ER room, the doctor informed us that he seen something that made him think I had a dissecting Aorta but that he was not a specialist and that he wanted to call in a specialist (my wife and I had never heard of this before). 

An hour later a specialist came in and within 15 min. told us that I had to have open heart surgery immediately.  That was a shock. He told us if I did not get into surgery within the next few hours, I would most likely be dead by morning.  Dr. Messier (the specialist) told us the surgery was very serious.  I asked him my chance of survival, I "heard" him say about 80% survive. (my wife told me much later that he said 80% don't survive the condition I was in)  I looked at my wife and told her 4 out of 5 surviving is very good odds. I'll be back soon.  I told her not to worry because I was still planning to take her to Hawaii for our 20th wedding anniversary in 2008.

I promised I'd be back.  Surgery took 10 1/2 hours.  I had approximately 10' of my aorta vein replaced.(beginning at the top of my heart) I had a damaged aortic heart valve which was replaced with a mechanical heart value. I was told I almost "died" 2 times on the table(docs had a difficult time bringing me back)  I was in the hospital for 13 days.  I was unable to properly swallow anything.  Feeding tubes were inserted into my nose.  For 6 days I had this.  Finally, I could swallow properly.  The feeding tubes were taken out I was allowed to go home about 5 days later.  Very weak.

A week later, I was back.  I had a very rapid heart beat due to fluid built up in my chest cavity.  I was admitted to ICU again and a tube was placed in my chest to draw off the fluid.  Before they could insert the tube to draw off the fluid, they had to give me 2 units of blood plasma to thicken my blood.  After all, I was on blood thinner due to the valve.  During the surgery, while inserting the tube, my heart was touched and I developed an irregular heart beat.  2 days later, there had been approximate. 1,000 cc's of fluid taken off my chest.  The tube was taken out.  The doc then used a low voltage shock to get my heart into rhythm.  I was given 3 unis of blood, because my blood level was so low.  Three days later, I was sent home again.

 Recovery took time.  I went through cardiac rehab.  I applied for social security disability.(out of fear of not wanting to fall back into what I felt was a big factor that caused my condition...job stress)  I was turned down....I was going to appeal, but I decided I was too young to give in and yet I was feeling much better and stronger.  I went back to my old job 4 1/2 months after my surgery.  I was very tired all the time....couldn't sleep very well.  About 2 months later, an Office position came open, I requested to the Warden for a transfer.

She told me it would be a 10% pay cut if I did.  I thought about it, talked about it with my wife......we decided, for my life's sake, it would be best.  I took the job......I feel much better.  Actually, there are days that I feel so great, I actually feel "normal".  The only constant reminder is the "ticking" from the value and the medications I take daily.  I thank God daily for allowing me to have the gift of life.  I have been told I am a walking miracle.
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