Sam: Beating the Odds
He was nearly done writing the capstone of his long career in political science: a book comparing American and European antipoverty strategies. It would be a major work, even for someone who had spent more than 50 years as a U-M professor, and two years as Ann Arbor’s mayor.
But in his home study one day, Samuel felt a pain like no other. Thinking he was having a heart attack, he called his wife, who dialed 911 immediately. Then he collapsed.
His insurance plan was affiliated with another hospital, but the ambulance crew figured immediately that they had to get him to the closest emergency room — the one at U-M. This split-second decision probably saved his life.
For what Sam was having wasn’t a heart attack, but something even more frightening: a ruptured aneurysm in the largest blood vessel of his body, the aorta. It was gushing blood into his abdomen, and only emergency surgery could stop it.
Just before whisking him into the operating room, the lead surgeon told Sam’s wife that only 20 percent of such patients survive.
But even though the odds were stacked high against him, Sam had two things on his side: The speed with which he got to the hospital, and the fact that he had been brought to U-M, which has a national reputation for treating and studying aortic aneurysms.
Sam’s surgical team got his aneurysm under control, and replaced the burst area with a new stretch of blood vessel. Still, the crisis had taken its toll, and he spent the next six weeks in the hospital. Over that time, hundreds of U-M nurses, physicians and others took care of him.
By early 2006, he was back home and finishing his book, which came out this spring. Now, just weeks after his 90th birthday, Sam is thankful to all who helped him through his ordeal. “U-M is such a fine hospital, where everyone is well-trained and works to study a problem and figure it out,” he says. The love of his wife, children and grandchildren also sustained him. “That kind of social support, combined with a great doctor and medical team, maximizes your chances,” he says. As a man who beat the odds, he should know.