His chance of living through surgery was just 35 percent
He was motorcycle-bound, returning to his home on the evening of Jan. 1, New Year’s Day, when he began to feel a bit dizzy. He shook it off, but once he returned home, he suffered excruciating pain in his back and neck along with a severe headache.
“I felt like my head was gonna explode,” St. Amant said. “I thought it may have been kidney stones, but I was sweating profusely and the pain was unbelievable. If I tried to lay down, it got worse. I couldn’t get comfortable.”
He called his girlfriend, Becky Hymel, an emergency room worker who asked a few questions to gauge his wellness. It wasn’t long before the Destrehan couple came to the conclusion St. Amant needed to get to the hospital.
After he arrived, the news was not good or welcome. He was diagnosed with a dissecting aorta, blocked right carotid artery and the blood supply to his kidney had been completely cut off.
“Nobody could believe he was alive and talking to us,” said Hymel. “They needed to take him in immediately.”
Added St. Amant, “I was actually turning a greyish color because, I guess, of the internal bleeding I had. … I started to think, this was it. This is what it must feel like. I’ve never felt pain like that in my entire life.”
Within an hour of arrival, he was in the operating room fighting for his life.
“They said he had a 35 percent chance to survive,” Hymel said. “And I think they were giving me a higher estimate because I work there. It was a scary situation.”
After a long spell on the operating table, where a level 1 trauma team and a cardiothoracic surgery team combined to repair his heart, St. Amant somehow beat those odds.
“The way they described the degree of difficulty on this surgery … basically if you take a napkin and you wet it, then try to sew it, that’s what he had inside him,” Hymel said.
“I started to think this was it. This is what it must feel like. I’ve never felt pain like that in my entire life.” – Bill St. Amant
He wasn’t out of the woods yet, however. Within 12 hours he had to return for a second surgery, which was also successful. St. Amant was in intensive care for 11 days and then spent an additional seven at the hospital before being released.
St. Amant said he is beyond fortunate that he came through the process. He added that if not for Hymel’s insistence, he’s not sure the issue at hand would have been found at the hospital.
“They say it’s very difficult to detect,” he said. “You’d never really think of tearing at the top of the heart … it was kind of a freaky thing that they even found out what it was to begin with. Becky insisted they keep looking and that something was wrong.
“They would have sent me home. If not for her, I’d have probably gone home, gone to sleep and never woke up. She saved my life. The doctors had a great part in that, and I’m forever grateful, but she was the one who pushed to keep looking. And thank God they did.
“To pick up the diagnosis when they did … that’s a miracle by itself.”
He was quick to note that while crediting Hymel, he also has no shortage of gratitude for the doctors, surgeons and staff who took care of him.
“I can never thank them enough. The type of surgery that entailed … I had a fantastic surgeon who did a wonderful job. They truly saved my life,” he said.
St. Amant said he has a renewed appreciation for life, and that his recovery is slowly but surely coming along.
That said, there are other complications. St. Amant, a welder with 36 years of experience, had just begun a new job when he suffered his medical problems, and thus does not have hospitalization. He also cannot return to work until fully medically cleared, and while there is an exemption he could pursue to do so, it wouldn’t apply for his line of work.
“I can get a release for work as tolerated, but the work I do is very strenuous … they don’t have a light duty type of work in the field I’m in,” St. Amant said. “I’m kinda having a cabin fever thing right now, because I’ve always worked. I don’t know what it’s like not to.”
The uncertainty of that is among the toughest parts. He cannot return to work until cleared, but there’s little telling when that date will be. Beyond medical bills from his hospital stay and continued care, his car is in the shop and the bills are piling up.
Hymel set up a GoFundMe (titled “Bill’s medical bill fund) to help with finances, and the both said they have great gratitude for the help that’s come from that, but each also admitted the financial strain has been stressful.
“I just want to be able to get back to where I was,” St. Amant said. “Even getting my car out the shop, I’m not sure where I’ll come up with the money for that. I want to get back to work and live a normal life again … the distress and anxiety has been unbelievable.”
Hymel’s presence has greatly helped, he said.
“I don’t know where I’d be if not for that woman,” he said. “She’s been everything to me, just a very caring and loving person.”
He also hopes his experience might one day save a life. While he was still in the hospital, he said a doctor made a presentation based on St. Amant’s experience.
“They took it as kind of a learning experience, so next time it happens they know what to look for,” he said. “I hope maybe the next time it happens, they’ll be able to recognize it quickly and maybe that person will live from that.”