Miles O’Brien, PBS Correspondent, Has Arm Amputated After Minor Accident Turns Serious

Journalist Miles O'Brien
Former CNN reporter Miles O'Brien recently had his arm amputated after a minor injury turned into a life-threatening emergency, he revealed in a blog post Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Miles O'Brien is dealing with a scary new reality. The PBS science correspondent and former CNN reporter, 54, recently had his left arm amputated just above the elbow following what he thought was a minor accident, he revealed in a blog post on his personal website on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

"I wish I had a better story to tell you about why I am typing this with one hand (and some help from Dragon Dictate)," the post, titled "Just a Flesh Wound," begins. "A shark attack would be interesting. An assassination attempt would be intriguing. Skydiving mishaps always make for good copy."

What really happened, he writes, is "more prosaic" — but nonetheless very scary. According to the post, O'Brien was packing up some TV gear after a shoot during his trip to Japan and the Philippines when one of the cases fell onto his forearm. "It was painful and swollen," he says, "but I figured it would be okay without any medical intervention. Maybe a little bit of denial?"

The next day, Feb. 13, his arm felt more or less the same. But later that night, both the pain and the swelling got worse, prompting O'Brien to seek help from a doctor the following morning. "While my concern was already growing, the look on [the doctor's] face when he saw my forearm got me a little more nervous," he writes.

The physician said he suspected Acute Compartment Syndrome, which O'Brien describes as "an increase in pressure inside an enclosed space in the body. This can block blood flow, causing a whole host of serious, life-threatening consequences."

Because of this, O'Brien was admitted to the hospital and wheeled into emergency surgery. "Of course I wasn't awake for the action, but I was told later that things tanked even further once I was on the table," the PBS NewsHour correspondent writes. "And when I lost blood pressure during the surgery due to the complications of compartment syndrome, the doctor made a real-time call and amputated my arm just above the elbow."

"It's been a challenging week dealing with the phantom pain, the vicissitudes of daily life with one hand, and the worries about what lies ahead," he notes. That said, he's grateful to be alive. 

"Life is all about playing the hand that is dealt you," O'Brien says. "Actually, I would love somebody to deal me another hand right about now — in more ways than one."

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