Motorcycle Wreck Saves Man’s Life
“Dawn didn’t want me to get that motorcycle, but I told her that damned thing saved my life.”
March 7 was a beautiful day. Eric Charaba finished work and knew it was the perfect day to take his motorcycle out. The 37-year-old is an experienced rider and bought the ’99 BMW R 1100 in February.
After more than an hour in the cool spring air, Charaba headed down Woody Road toward Highway 65. “I went into a corner a little too fast. I think I was zoned out a little bit, went into the soft grass and spilled over,” Charaba remembers. The crash took a mirror off the bike and cracked the fender. Charaba was OK, except for his back–it hurt, a lot. He called his wife, Dawn, who took him to the emergency department at Annie Penn Hospital.
After a few scans of his back, Charaba remembers the care team coming into his treatment area. “They said yeah, you got two compression fractures in your spine.” What came next floored him. The doctor noticed something near his heart totally unrelated to the motorcycle accident. The doctor was sending the scans to a colleague at The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro. “Even before he sent it over, he said, if this is what I think it is you are going to have to have surgery.” And I said, “Wait a second, what? That was kind of a shocker,” adds Charaba.
The scan showed Charaba’s aorta, normally about the diameter of a garden hose, was about two and a half times larger than that. An aorta that size carries a risk of bursting—and that is usually fatal. “It could have been a year from now, five years from now, you know. I could have been walking along and, you know, I would have never known about it,” Charaba says.
Charaba's wrecked motorcycle
A defective heart valve caused Charaba’s aortic aneurysm. Steven Hendrickson, MD, did the surgery at Moses Cone Hospital. “Aneurysms can grow slowly with no symptoms before they rupture with potentially catastrophic results,” says Hendrickson. “Outcomes are much better if treated before they rupture. We were fortunate to find this aneurysm when we did." Hendrickson replaced the weakened section of the largest blood vessel in Charaba’s body with a fabric graft. For Charaba the operation was very simple, “It is kind of like hemming your pants,” says Charaba, “They zipped it up, rolled it over and I think they grafted some material in there to strengthen it, reconnected everything and here I am.”
Charaba was impressed with the care from the emergency department to physical therapy. “Everyone treated me like I was their only patient,” he says.
It took about seven weeks for Charaba to begin feeling normal again after the surgery. He has a to-do list. He plans to thank the guy he bought his motorcycle from. And plans to take his motorcycle back out. “That bike saved my life. I’m going to be riding that thing until it dies,” Charaba says. “I probably heard, you shouldn’t ride a motorcycle about a thousand times (during the course of his care.) Well, in my case, it was good thing.”
Ironically, Charaba planned to buy a Jeep Wrangler. But it sold the night before he was going to get it. The next morning he bought the BMW motorcycle. “What if I went and liked the Jeep?” chuckles Charaba. “Maybe I would have got into a car accident.”
He just hopes the choice would still have brought him to Annie Penn Hospital.