On April 17 the Skipper celebrated surviving 10 years since the day that changed his life. He was scheduled for a valve replacement which is a common surgery from which he expected to recover quickly. However, he was at risk of complications due to having Marfans, a connective tissue disorder. The Doctor also discovered he was plugged in two arteries. He’d been actively hiking and participating in aerobics, working, sailing and travelling. He was told to move slowly and carefully while being scheduled for urgent surgery.
Following the surgery he did have massive complications which changed his life significantly, requiring additional emergency surgery, and had to be put in a 10 day coma to recover. His aorta had let go, causing lack of blood flow to the brain and nerve damage to the feet. His body was chilled to slow his heart and patch his aorta.
After waking up he experienced disturbing hallucinations which he remembers to this day. He was convinced he was being held captive and the nurses were part of the conspiracy that had him confined and were stealing his money. In reality, the thing that got stolen was his voice, a nerve that travels from his vocal cord to his heart and back was damaged. He had a deep loud “radio voice” and remembers fondly being able to take over a room, talking over others.
After a month in hospital he was released, very weak but alive. His friend and current crew Ken picked him up and took him back to his accommodation at the time. The skipper had lived like a gypsy, working across Canada and living in rooming houses to save money for his dream boat. So back to the rooming house he went, and started the process of recovery.
To recover from the brain damage he taught himself French. Since the brain is plastic it can recover from certain types of injury. For a period of time he lost the area of facial recognition and when he went to the mall everyone looked the same. When he asked his neurologist about this he recommended the book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” which explains the part of the brain responsible for this function.
Being a veracious reader and researcher, he learned all about his health challenges and quickly became his own best advocate. This has been a key factor in his survival, and he constantly familiarizes himself with all the medications, tests and treatments that keep him going.
Food is a big part of his health, as it is for everyone, but requires special attention due to contraindications of some foods with his anticoagulants. He keeps his diet simple and healthy and swears by his breakfast recipe of oatmeal mixed with fruit and vegetables, nuts, beets and sauertkraut. You really have to see it to believe it.
On G-Dock the live aboard family are wonderful at keeping in touch and checking on the skipper, especially if there’s not been signs of movement for a few days. Quick to call or knock on the boat if anything is amiss they keep an eye during these long winter days when hibernation is easy for most of us, and signs of life are always reassuring.
The Doctors on Vancouver Island have been exceptional. His family Docs refer to him as their “miracle patient” and keep a very close eye on him. His specialists call him personally if anything starts to indicate a problem. He truly believes if he hadn’t come to Vancouver Island he wouldn’t be alive. This proved to be true when in 2011 he contracted listeria which formed a pocket in a crease of the tissue and caused a bulge through which he was bleeding into his back. This led to another aortic dissection and surgery for a bypass in the lower aorta. People seldom survive one aortic dissection, let alone two.
It is a priviledge for the 1st Mate, and anyone along for the ride, to see the Skipper and OMOO in action. The years fall away and the sailor looks 10 years younger, strong, free, proud and very, very happy. Now it’s been 7 years of life together onboard OMOO.
The recovery goes on today, he stands firm and sees himself again, like a rock.
He still believes in his dream.