February 26, 2014 / 5:10 AM / 5 years ago

U.S. PBS correspondent Miles O'Brien loses forearm after mishap

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Public television science correspondent Miles O’Brien had his left forearm amputated during emergency surgery earlier this month after suffering what he thought was a minor blow to his limb while packing up some equipment, he said on Tuesday.

O’Brien, 54, chronicled the progression of his medical horror story, which unfolded at the end of a lengthy reporting trip to Japan and the Philippines, in an account posted on his personal blog site.

The initial injury, caused by a storage case falling onto his arm, left the limb sore and swollen, but O’Brien said he thought it would heal on its own without medical attention.

Instead, the injury progressed over the next two days into an excruciatingly painful, life-threatening condition called acute compartment syndrome, in which blood flow is severely constrained by a buildup of pressure within a confined space in the body, he wrote.

The physician he consulted immediately admitted him to a hospital, where doctors recommended an emergency procedure known as a fasciotomy, the surgical removal of fascia, or connective tissue, in an injured extremity to relieve pressure and save the limb.

The outcome proved more dire still.

“I was later told that things tanked even further once I was on the table,” he wrote. “And when I lost blood pressure during the surgery due to complications ... the doctor made a real-time call and amputated my arm just above the elbow.”

O’Brien, whose blog post did not make clear where the medical treatment occurred, added that the doctor told him afterward “it all boiled down to a choice, between life and a limb.”

The broadcast journalist, who said he wrote the blog entry by typing with one hand and with help from dictation software, described himself as grateful for being alive, despite the challenges of lingering “phantom pain” from his lost limb and challenges that lie ahead.

“Life is all about playing the hand that is dealt you,” he wrote. “Actually I would love somebody to deal me another hand right about now - in more ways than one.”

O’Brien, a native of Detroit, is the science correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour,” a producer and director of the PBS science documentary series “NOVA,” a correspondent for the PBS documentary series “Frontline” and the chief correspondent for the National Science Foundation’s “Science Nation” series.

Before his PBS tenure, O’Brien spent 16 years at CNN covering science, space, aviation technology and the environment, leaving the cable network in 2008. He had been slated to become the first journalist to fly aboard one of NASA’s space shuttles, an assignment that was canceled after the Columbia and its crew were lost.

Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Ken Wills

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