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On the road to recovery

Snelling recovering from crash, life-threatening complications

Staff writer

After more than a month in Via Christi Hospital and rehabilitation in Wichita after a head-on car crash, 39-year-old Dean Snelling of Goessel went home May 18 with his parents, Dale and Tootsie Snelling of rural Chase County.

“I’m doing good today,” Dean said at his parents’ home Thursday. “My pain level is at a good low.”

Dean was driving to work about 6:30 a.m. April 15 between Goessel and Moundridge when Dustin W. Frank of Canton crossed the centerline of the road, causing a head-on collision. Dean was taken to Via Christi Hospital with a broken left hip socket, a broken ulna in his right wrist, and other injuries.

It wasn’t long before doctors discovered that he also had a tear in his aorta, the largest artery in the body. If his aorta ruptured, he almost certainly would have died. Because of that risk, he underwent surgery to repair and protect his aorta on April 16.

He later had surgeries to put a bracelet around his hip socket and a plate and nine pins in his forearm. While recovering from the last surgery, Dean aspirated, breathing in his own stomach acid.

That led to his lungs collapsing, another potentially lethal complication. Fifteen trauma doctors and nurses spent about 90 minutes working to restore lung function. His condition worsened for the first 45 minutes, and every 15 minutes a doctor updated Dale and Tootsie on Dean’s condition.

At the second or third update, the doctor told them that if his condition didn’t begin to improve soon, he would probably die. But when the next update came, he had started to improve, and the improvement continued.

Because he hadn’t been breathing for such a long time, there was the possibility that he had suffered brain damage. But during the procedure, when the head nurse shook Dean’s shoulder and told him to open his eyes, he did.

Dale said the nurses in the intensive care unit called Dean their “miracle man.”

Dean was on a respirator and was kept unconscious for about a week. During that time he had six intravenous fluid stands with 18 different medicines and fluids, Dale said.

Despite the fact that Dean was unconscious, his parents went to the hospital every morning when the intensive care unit opened.

“We’d always be waiting at the door at 8:30 in the morning,” Dale said.

Every morning, Tootsie would hold Dean’s hand and tell him she was there. After doctors eased Dean out of his induced coma, Tootsie was thrilled when he responded by squeezing her hand three times.

“The first thing I remember (after the surgeries) is being on that bed,” Dean said.

His parents said they got to know a lot of people in the intensive care unit, including the staff and families of other patients.

“You kind of get an ICU family going there at the hospital,” Tootsie said.

When Dean woke up, he still had a lot of tubes in him, and his bed was shaking to help phlegm drain from his lungs. He was confused at first, because he didn’t immediately remember the crash, although he was conscious and alert on the way to the hospital after it happened.

Doctors told him it will be eight to 12 weeks before he can put any weight on his left leg and six to eight weeks before he can use his right arm. He is improving fairly quickly, though. He has a walker, and can walk about 50 feet with it, a dramatic improvement from the 6 inches he could walk with it at first.

Dean is concerned about returning to work as a machinist at Bradbury in Moundridge. He doesn’t know how well he will be able to cope with standing as much as 10 hours at a time.

He said family members and friends have been incredibly supportive in his recovery.

“I want to say thanks to all the people who sent prayers and donated money,” Dean said.

Last modified May 26, 2011

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