O'Brien, 54, chronicled the progression of his medical horror
story, which unfolded at the end of a lengthy reporting trip to
Japan and the Philippines, in an account posted on his personal
The initial injury, caused by a storage case falling onto his
arm, left the limb sore and swollen, but O'Brien said he thought
it would heal on its own without medical attention.
Instead, the injury progressed over the next two days into an
excruciatingly painful, life-threatening condition called acute
compartment syndrome, in which blood flow is severely
constrained by a buildup of pressure within a confined space in
the body, he wrote.
The physician he consulted immediately admitted him to a
hospital, where doctors recommended an emergency procedure known
as a fasciotomy, the surgical removal of fascia, or connective
tissue, in an injured extremity to relieve pressure and save the
The outcome proved more dire still.
"I was later told that things tanked even further once I was on
the table," he wrote. "And when I lost blood pressure during the
surgery due to complications ... the doctor made a real-time
call and amputated my arm just above the elbow."
O'Brien, whose blog post did not make clear where the medical
treatment occurred, added that the doctor told him afterward "it
all boiled down to a choice, between life and a limb."
[to top of second column]
The broadcast journalist, who said he wrote the blog entry by typing
with one hand and with help from dictation software, described
himself as grateful for being alive, despite the challenges of
lingering "phantom pain" from his lost limb and challenges that lie
"Life is all about playing the hand that is dealt you," he wrote.
"Actually I would love somebody to deal me another hand right about
now - in more ways than one."
O'Brien, a native of Detroit, is the science correspondent for the
"PBS NewsHour," a producer and director of the PBS science
documentary series "NOVA," a correspondent for the PBS documentary
series "Frontline" and the chief correspondent for the National
Science Foundation's "Science Nation" series.
Before his PBS tenure, O'Brien spent 16 years at CNN covering
science, space, aviation technology and the environment, leaving the
cable network in 2008. He had been slated to become the first
journalist to fly aboard one of NASA's space shuttles, an assignment
that was canceled after the Columbia and its crew were lost.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by
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