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Scot Ashton: From fit to major surgery; recalling that time his lungs collapsed and he got new ones

Imagine falling asleep in a confused and disoriented condition and waking up nearly 4 weeks later with numerous hoses, sensors, bandages, and tubes protruding from your body. Your mouth and lips are as dry as a saltine cracker in a Death Valley dust storm. You are hungry enough to eat a tongue depressor and attempt to do so when a nurse examines your throat. As you gaze across the room, you notice loved ones, friends, and several medical staff members. You try to speak to your wife, but when you utter the words, you hear a voice that is a combination of Darth Vader and Alvin the Chipmunk. You go to sit up and move to a better position, but soon realize you are strapped down like a housefly in a spider web.

Everyone in the room appears to be aware and excited that you are awake but unfortunately, your reality and delirium are nearly one in the same.

As the hours and days go by, the reality part of your consciousness starts to win the battle.

Scot Ashton and his family

Communication is still somewhat problematic, but you come to the conclusion that you have experienced a very major incident or trauma that has left you debilitated.

Once your brain cells start to awaken, you finally get the chance to speak to your spouse. To your astonishment, you no longer have the once strong lungs you have been using for 55 years but two new lungs and are recovering from a major operation.

You are also now in Columbus at the Ohio State University Hospital. The only thing you are really sure of is that you are alive, and your family is by your side.

As you go through the same routine for the next couple weeks (get up, poop, pee, change your gown, eat, take medication, get injections and IVs, and get constant visits by doctors and nurses) you begin to discover greater details on how this happened.

At the end of 2017 I was a healthy, physically fit, 55-year old. I had finally broken the 200-pound mark benching, with triceps, biceps and doing 30 minutes plus vigorous cardio 3-4 times a week. I felt great and felt impervious. Sometime in January, I picked up a breathing ailment that seemed to be the typical winter bronchial crap. I coughed, hacked but unfortunately, it continued to persist. As the end of February, I figured I either had pneumonia or something as severe. Shortly after arriving at work in mid-February, I couldn’t stop coughing and could not catch my breath. I headed off to the St. Elizabeth Hospital in Florence which was on the way home.

After a brief examination and x-ray, I admitted. Soon they were drawing numerous vials of blood, poking, prodding, and testing all parts of my body. I felt like a voodoo doll. I finally called my wife who left work to see what was going on. Once she arrived, my doctor informed us that my lungs were not well and had experienced considerable damage sometime in the past. According to the X-rays, 2/3rds of my lungs were destroyed and my condition was very serious. That night I was put on a C-PAP respirator. My condition deteriorated. The last thing I recall was having trouble breathing while fading to black.

My wife took charge. With the help of the medical staff, she had to find a medical facility that could take care of my pulmonary distress. They found a pulmonary bed space at the level 1 trauma care center at Ohio State Unversity Hospital. My condition was so severe that I went into cardiac arrest momentarily while in the ICU and a helicopter air care unit was called to transport me.

I arrived at the OSUH about 30 minutes later. There, I was placed on an ECMO life support machine to await a lung transplant. I was put on the donor recipient list after 10 days. Within 12 hours, the team was notified of a recipient match and our family was given the life-changing news. This was a miracle since most people are on a transplant list for weeks, months and years. My surgery began on March 4th and ended on the 5th after nearly 12 hours. My wife and son were told my situation was critical.

I have always been a fighter. I believe I am here on earth for a reason. I was given a second chance.

During my unconscious state, I went through numerous dream or delirium episodes. None were pleasant, on the contrary, they were haunting, hopeless visits to a hellish world I never want to see or even imagine again. I was just a general feeling of constant agony but finally woke up at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center after being unconscious for nearly a month.

Now being on serious drugs can be a funny event, and my crazy trip was no exception. During the two weeks, before I finally left the funny farm, I made comments to my son, wife and various others that brought humor to the situation. Apparently, I was incredibly thirsty and during a semi-coherent moment told my son that I wanted 45 gallons of Cream Brule on ice. I had to have it and was adamant that he arrange for its delivery. I also asked my wife if she had the car with her. I told her to take me to Kroger’s, so I could buy numerous bottles of soda and ice.

I’ve gone through a plethora of emotions since the operation. At first, there was simple disbelief. My eyes were telling me one story, but my mind could not even fathom what my wife and the medical staff were telling me. Once I became more coherent, I developed a sense of disbelief. How could this happen? Why did this happen? What exactly was done to me? Am I going to be disabled for the remainder of my life?

All these questions were burning in my mind and began to consume much of my alone time. Later came the guilt. I was raised in a traditional household where a man’s responsibility was to take care of your wife, take care of your family and provide the best life possible for them. I told my wife I would never leave her, or my children and they were the most important aspects of my life. When they told my wife that I would not make it, she broke down. Thinking about that moment literally brings tears to my eyes, for I feel somehow, someway, I let her down. Not only that, just having my wife cry and be emotionally distraught is much like a knife to my heart. Lastly, leaving without saying goodbye is not the way I wanted to punch my ticket. Nearly 2 months after the surgery I still sometimes feel it was all a bad dream and want to wake up in the condition I was before it all happened. I want to be normal, I want to breath normal, I want to be that healthy 55-year-old again.

There are times I fixate on the person who had the heart and courage to give up their organs to me so that I could resume my life. I can’t help but feel remorseful to the parents and family of this wonderful soul. Who were they, did the person suffer when they passed, are the survivors doing OK, do they know their gift touched so many and ensured our family has continued joy, happiness, and memories?

Gambling has never been one of my vices, probably since I was raised to appreciate money and hard work. When it came to surviving this physical trauma to my body, my chances of survival were less than 5%. My lungs shut down so quickly (sepsis and ARDS) that I nearly suffocated before I got to OSU. I flatlined while in the ICU at St. Elizabeth Hospital just before my Air Care flight. I’m not sure of the details, but my wife said that I coded and the medical team got me going again. She told me to never do that again.

The Ohio State University Hospital was truly fantastic, and I am forever indebted to the institution for saving my life.

I am now four months post-op and all exams are indicating total transplant success. I’m 6 months ahead of my projected recovery schedule and started back to work less than 2 months after the major surgery.

I am truly blessed by having such a loving, caring wife, family, friends, co-workers,’ and a plethora of people who prayed for me. In addition, I thank God for the skill, intelligence, and expertise of the medical personnel that saved my life. Most importantly, I thank God and Jesus who intervened to save me from almost certain death and give me additional precious time to spend with my family.

Scot Allen Ashton served 24 years in the Air Force, 20 of which was in Japan, then served in the Gulf War and retired as a Senior Master Sergeant in 2007. He moved to Burlington and has been working for the VA at Fort Thomas in Mental Health Programs that help our Veterans. He and his wife, Yolanda, have two grown children and 14-year-old Alleah who attends Cooper High School.

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