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Downstate Times

The Newsletter for SUNY Downstate
University Hospital of Brooklyn

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ISSUE 7 star MAY 2013


The Day Downstate Saved My Life

by Ron Howell
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
©Daily News, L.P. (New York).
Used with permission.

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Around this time last year, I was on the precipice of life, looking into the abyss.

Boerhaave's syndrome hits suddenly. It's like a heart attack but far rarer, involving the esophagus, which is ruptured from violent heaving; the lungs, which collapse from the volcanic disruption, and the midsection, which is filled with rushing fluids.

Though Boerhaave's has a 35% mortality rate, I came out on the surviving side—because the emergency team quickly got me to a hospital equipped with a capable cardiothoracic surgeon.

That hospital was Brooklyn's SU NY Downstate Medical Center, and the surgeon was Dr. Vinay Tak, whose words, after I awoke from the tedious operation, gave comfort: "Nothing you face in the coming weeks will equal what you've just been through."

Today, I am gratefully taking in the pleasures and challenges of everyday life. And it might be said that I owe it all to Downstate.

When the ambulance got me to Downstate last February, my wife, Marilyn, was frantic because, though it was early on a Friday morning, the emergency area was thick with patients in pain, seeking the attention of doctors. We could hear all kinds of accents: Jamaican, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese.

Fortunately for me, through the confusion of it all, doctors realized the immediacy of my case, and frantic calls went out over the speakers for Dr. Tak, who would go on to do a job that makesthe word "surgeon" so commanding of respect.

Of course, it wasn't only the operating physician who stood out. Nurses were there day and night, checking every beep of the machines by my bed and the connections of the tubes I felt in so many different parts of my body.

It gave me special satisfaction, during my two weeks in intensive care at Downstate, to interact with medical students and residents who accompanied attending physicians on their rounds. I engaged them in conversation and was pleased to meet so many who were graduates of Brooklyn College, where I've been teaching journalism the past four years.

Editor's note: In conversation with Professor Howell, he added these remarks: "I'm back at work thanks to the dedication of my wonderful medical team. I'm also indebted to my cousin, Dr. Sydney Butts, a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Downstate, who took time out from her own busy schedule to watch over me while I was recovering."


photo of Ron Powell

Ron Howell on the Brooklyn College campus, where he teaches journalism.