By Marc Larocque Enterprise Staff Writer Posted Jun 14, 2018 at 2:45 PM Updated Jun 14, 2018 at 9:56 PM
An emergency open-heart surgery floored Brian Clay and his family one year ago, when he was diagnosed with a tear to his aorta, and he was rushed from Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton to Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
But now the 42-year-old, who grew up in Brockton and North Attleboro, is back up and running.
On Thursday morning, Clay marked the one-year anniversary of his life-saving surgery by meeting the doctor at Good Samaritan Medical Center who first diagnosed him with acute aortic dissection, and made a quick call for an emergency helicopter, along with the nurse who first detected symptoms of a serious heart problem on June 14, 2017. Then, after thanking them, Clay set out on an 18.5-mile run that re-traced the Medflight helicopter trip he took from Good Sam to Brigham and Women’s.
“I’m lucky I’m not just balling my eyes out right now,” said Clay, after meeting the medical professionals. “It’s really great to see them. They’re obviously incredible at their jobs.”
Clay and his wife Laura expressed their gratitude and introduced their three young children to the Good Samaritan emergency physician, Joseph Grueter, and registered nurse Sue Dos Santos-Pais.
“These are the ones who figured out what was wrong with me,” said Clay, explaining who they were to his two daughters and son.
Dos Santos-Pais, who has worked for 30 years as a nurse, recalled how Clay came into the emergency room believing that he might be suffering a panic attack. Clay said he didn’t think he was having a heart attack because he didn’t have any of the classic symptoms – no tingling down his arm and no overwhelming pressure on his chest. Instead, Clay said he had a “weird feeling” in his chest, and was sweaty and had vision trouble.
“He thought he was having an anxiety attack, but I took a look at him and was like, ‘No, this is way worse,‘” said Dos Santos-Pais, recalling the incident to The Enterprise. “We immediately got a CT scan and it proved we were right.’”
Steve Clay, Brian’s father, was attending a wake in Brockton with his son when the medical crisis began, before bringing him to Good Samaritan. Steve Clay said it’s shocking because his son was in excellent physical shape, as an avid runner who completed the Boston Marathon twice, the Maine Marathon and the Clarence DeMar Marathon, and others.
“The whole time I thought he had indigestion or something,” said Steve Clay. “It was surreal. He’s been in such good health and all of a sudden, I don’t know what hit him. ... When they called the helicopter, that was when we first realized it was pretty serious. It was very scary.”
Grueter said it’s not too often that a person at Clay’s age suffers from a aortic dissection, which can quickly lead to death from a lack of blood flow to the heart. And Grueter said it’s rare that he gets to meet with patients like Clay, after sending them off from the Good Samaritan helipad.
“This is kind of why we do what we do, for patients like this and for outcomes like this,” Grueter said. “You don’t see this very often in the (emergency department). It means a lot to us to be able to see him doing so well. It’s incredible.”
Dos Santos-Pais said it’s both exciting and scary to prepare a patient for a Medflight trip. Dos Santos-Pais said it was important for Good Samaritan to get Clay out of there fast. The emergency room nurse said she was ecstatic to hear that Clay made it through surgery okay.
“You never know what the outcome might be,” she said. “God creates miracles. I’m glad to have participated in one. It’s amazing. He didn’t look too good. I was just hoping for the best outcome. I just prayed that he made it.”
Laura Clay recalled making a joke about her husband taking a helicopter ride without her once he awoke from surgery.
“I’m just so thankful for everybody and all the support we’ve received,” she said.
Clay said he’s glad to be able to return to his love of long-distance running after three months of rehabilitation, following the open heart surgery, which involved a synthetic graft being placed on the torn area of the aorta. In March, Clay did his first long-distance race after his surgery, completing the New Bedford Half-Marathon with his wife.
“Right away, when I was recovering, I started watching all these ultra endurance races on YouTube,” Clay said. “It kind of kept my spirits up and reminded me of the stuff I loved to do. I started thinking right away I wanted to do something big on my one-year aorta anniversary.”
Clay used his anniversary run from Brockton to Boston to help promote and raise money for the nonprofit Wings for Falmouth Families. Clay, whose realty job is based in Falmouth, said the nonprofit donates 100 percent of the money it raises to families dealing with medical crises. Clay said it’s his way of paying it forward for all the people who helped him during and after his medical emergency. Clay set out about 9 a.m. on the 18.5-mile run with his friend, Phil Allessi, while another friend, Rich Fong, drove a support vehicle.
Clay said his family was told that he had a 50 percent chance of coming out of emergency surgery, and “luckily” his surgeon did a really great job.
“Thanks again to Good Samaritan, and to all the caregivers, and basically everybody who has helped me over the past year, and has sent positive energy and good vibes,” Clay said. “I’m just so grateful.”