PBS science reporter Miles O’Brien has left arm amputated after accident

February 26

TV journalist Miles O’Brien thought it was no big deal when a heavy crate full of camera gear fell on his left arm nearly two weeks ago. His arm hurt, for sure, but O’Brien decided to shrug it off and continue a reporting trip in Japan and the Philippines for “PBS NewsHour.”

That wasn’t going to happen.

Within a day of the Feb. 12 accident, O’Brien, a science reporter who formerly worked for CNN, realized something was seriously wrong. His arm had begun to swell and the pain was increasing. He sought out a doctor.

“While my concern was already growing, the look on his face when he saw my forearm got me a little more nervous,” O’Brien wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

The diagnosis: acute compartment syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition in which increased pressure within an enclosed space in the body cuts off the flow of blood to muscles and nerves.


This 2010 photo shows reporter Miles O'Brien. His left arm was amputated after an apparently minor injury quickly worsened. (Robert Severi/PBS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS)

O’Brien writes that he was admitted to a hospital and that within hours, his forearm was numb. Shortly before the accident, O’Brien’s Twitter feed indicated that he was in Quezon City, which is part of Metropolitan Manila. But his blog post did not specify where the accident took place or the location of the hospital.

The doctor — also unidentified in O’Brien’s account — recommended an emergency fasciotomy, a surgical procedure designed to relieve the pressure on an affected limb.

But the doctor began to fear that the problem was rapidly growing worse.

“It was getting real,” O’Brien writes. “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. 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. He later told me it all boiled down to a choice . . . between a life and a limb.”

O’Brien says he woke up “to a new reality in the hospital. 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.

“But I am alive and I’m grateful for that,” he writes. Please don’t worry about me. I’m sure I can cope just fine. If I need your help, I promise I will ask.”

“PBS NewsHour” spokeswoman Anne Bell said O’Brien had been reporting for the program on the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster and the typhoon in the Philippines. She said she spoke with O’Brien but said he didn’t want to comment beyond what he wrote on his blog. O’Brien is back home in Chevy Chase, Md., she said, and resumed working “before we knew what had happened.”

According to his Twitter feed, O’Brien is moderating a panel discussion on climate change Thursday at the National Academy of Sciences.

Always a genial on-air presence, O’Brien closed his blog post with a pun: “Life is all about playing the hand that is dealt you. Actually, I would love somebody to deal me another hand right about now — in more ways than one.”

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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