“It started out being the trip of a lifetime. It ended up being the journey of a lifetime.”
That’s how Terry Wilson summed up the story of how a trans-Atlantic cruise became a harrowing medical saga that could have ended in tragedy. Instead, thanks to a timely medical flight and the skills of a neurologist at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, the story has a happy ending.
Lee and Terry Wilson were having breakfast in their stateroom on the third day of a cruise from Miami to Barcelona, Spain, when Lee suffered a sharp pain at the back of his head.
“Then he passed out,” Terry said later as the couple sat in their New Hanover County home.
Fortunately, the ship was docked in Hamilton, Bermuda. Lee was taken to the hospital in Hamilton, the British territory’s capital.
A CT scan revealed bleeding in Lee’s brain caused by a ruptured aneurysm. The neurologist said Lee needed immediate surgery, but he told the Wilsons that he thought Lee should have it done elsewhere.
“I said we’d like to go home,” Terry recalled.
They’d purchased a travel insurance policy that included health insurance, which Lee recommends to anyone on Medicare traveling outside the United States.
The doctor in Bermuda contacted Dr. Vinodh Doss, an interventional neurologist with NHRMC Physician Group – Neurology.
The Wilsons were flown on a private medical jet to Wilmington, with the insurance footing the bill.
It was a scary time for Terry, as her husband lay on a gurney.
“I felt like I was by myself,” she said. “I knew I had to be strong and see this through, to do what was needed.”
An ambulance was waiting for them when they landed at Wilmington International Airport. The flight’s medical crew accompanied the couple to the hospital. It was 7:45 p.m. April 6, a Saturday night.
At NHRMC, Lee was taken directly to have another CT scan, and then into surgery to repair the aneurysm. But not before Dr. Doss spoke to Terry and to Lee.
“He was waiting for us,” Terry said. Something about Dr. Doss gave Terry confidence, despite her fears.
“I can see God’s light in your eyes and I know you’re going to save my husband,” Terry told him.
Lee was similarly reassured.
“He introduced himself to me and said, I’ve got to tell you the risks involved,” Lee said. After explaining, the doctor said, “I’ve done this surgery multiple times. I’ll see you when you wake up.”
“That made me feel better,” Lee said.
Terry spent two and a half hours in the waiting room, sitting with a friend who had come to keep her company. Then Dr. Doss came out and said the surgery had gone well.
Lee spent eight days being carefully monitored in the Intensive Care Unit. “He had excellent care in ICU,” Terry said.
He was moved to the Progressive Care Unit on the seventh floor. He was there for six days, doing some physical therapy. Dr. Doss and another neurologist kept tabs on his recovery.
“I was able to get up and walk,” Lee said. “My appetite started coming back.”
Terry and Lee celebrated Lee’s 71st birthday in the Progressive Care Unit with a silly hat, balloons and a birthday cake.
“All the nurses were wonderful,” Terry said.
Six weeks after the surgery, Lee is active around the house. He speaks naturally.
“I’m slower,” he admitted. “But I don’t think it affected my speech or memory.”
Terry gives him a little extra time to respond to questions, and to get ready for appointments. They’re grateful to be back home together.
Terry related one detail she found “amazing.” After the surgery, she was told to go home and rest. Her friend drove her home, since her car was still parked at the airport in Charlotte.
Before they left, Lee had turned off the breaker to the hot water heater. On the way home, Terry said, “Lee called me, an hour after surgery! He tells me in detail where the breaker is and how to turn it on.”
Terry was so moved by the whole experience that she wrote a letter to John Gizdic, president and CEO of New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
“I am writing today for the purpose of thanking you for hiring Dr. Vinodh Doss,” she wrote in the letter dated April 26. “Dr. Doss is a fine surgeon, wonderful human being and compassionate for his patients. My husband is making great progress and should be back to his normal routine thanks to the hands of Dr. Doss.”
NHRMC offers 24/7 neuro-interventional coverage to treat patients suffering cerebrovascular emergencies, including stroke and aneurysms. For more information on NHRMC Neuroscience, visit: www.nhrmc.org/services/neuroscience