Former CNN Anchor Deals With Acute Compartment Syndrome, Has Arm Amputated


Former CNN anchor Miles O’Brien, who sat in the anchor chair for several years at CNN, has had part of his arm amputated as a result of acute compartment syndrome after what he had believed was a relatively minor injury.  The reporter, who works as a NOVA correspondent, was on assignment in Asia when the accident occurs.

In a blog post, O’Brien explains that he was securing cases of camera gear Feb. 12 when one of the cases fell and hit his left forearm.  At the time, he says he did not think much about the injury, suspecting that it was a fairly minor incident.  The next day, though, his arm was swollen and sore.  Overnight, his arm became worse and the pain rose to such an extent that he asked the hotel to refer him to a doctor.

It was in visiting the doctor that he learned he might have acute compartment syndrome, which can be a fairly serious condition if left untreated.  Acute compartment syndrome results when there is unrelieved pressure in the muscle compartment, and O’Brien’s doctor suggested a fasciotomy to help relieve the pressure.  The former CNN anchor, who had noticed that his forearm had taken on a bit of a dusky hue since the cases first fell, was made more nervous when he saw the seriousness on his doctor’s face.  O’Brien agreed to the procedure, but during the surgery, his blood pressure dropped and the situation became far more serious than it initially was.

Fascia are the layers of tissue that separate layers of muscles in the arms and legs, and each of these fascia has space between them, known as compartments.  When pressure becomes too great in the fascia, acute compartment syndrome has developed and may result in amputation if the situation is serious enough, as it was in O’Brien’s case.

O’Brien’s doctor was left with the decision of saving O’Brien’s arm or saving the reporter’s life, and when O’Brien woke from surgery, his left arm had been amputated from the elbow down.  While O’Brien continues to work on the PBS show NOVA in spite of the trauma, he notes that his recovery has not been an easy one.  He types with one hand and says he now deals with phantom pain in the missing part of the limb – an affliction common to those who have undergone an amputation.

O’Brien noted, though, that he is grateful to have his life, though he now has worries about the future because of his amputation.  He noted that his situation, while unfortunate, reminded him of what was important in life.

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

The former CNN anchor noted that while his arm has been amputated and the situation made him nervous, he is doing well in spite of the circumstances.  He said in his blog that daily life had become more challenging with one hand, but made a promise that should he require help, he would not hesitate to ask.

By Christina St-Jean


Miles O’Brien’s Blog

Washington Post



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