ATLANTA - At just 16, Ebrima Bah is already the king of second chances.
"He's extremely lucky," says Emory cardiothoracic surgeon Brad Leshnower.
Lucky, because the soft-spoken Wheeler High School junior survived an ordeal so rare, and so risky, Leshnower and his colleagues have never seen anything like.
Bah had a dissected aorta, a life-threatening complication typically seen in men three times his age.
"The clock is ticking here, it is a very lethal processes," says Dr. Leshnower.
"Before he went to surgery, he told me, "I am coming back mommy. Don't cry. Don't cry," his mother Kumba Cham says.
The family's ordeal began the night of December 15, 2016, when, walking into his gym to play basketball, Ebrima felt a sharp tearing pain in his chest. At first it just felt strange.
"But then it became that I couldn't breathe," Ebrima says. "So, I called my sister and she called an ambulance."
When Fatima Bah got there, her brother was surrounded by friends.
"At that moment, I thought it may have been a panic attack, but he was grasping at his heart," Fatima remembers.
Rushed to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, doctors at first thought Ebrima had pneumonia.
But a CT scan of his chest showed something much more ominous.
"They were like, "He is bleeding, he has had a tear, and he is bleeding in his chest," says his mother.
"The clock is ticking here, it is a very lethal process," says Dr. Leshnower.
Ebrima was transferred to Emory University Hospital for emergency surgery.
More tests revealed her had a long tear that ran the entire length of his aorta, which pumps blood from his heart to his lower body.
Two liters of blood had already leaked into his chest.
"And all of a sudden, everyone was just praying," his mother says.
"It's a very fragile situation," says Dr. Leshnower. "The aorta has essentially leaked and temporarily sealed. At any minute that temporary seal could free-rupture."
Dr. Leshnower and his team needed to do something, quickly.
But, just putting Ebrima under anesthesia was highly risky.
His mom knew this was his only chance.
"There was another lady that was there," Cham says. "I will never forget that lady. She was there. Praying with me. Praying with me for my child. She didn't even know me."
In the OR, Dr. Leshnower and a vascular surgeon delicately threaded a long stent up into Ebrima's fragile aorta, to reinforce the tear the tear.
But, this was not open-chest surgery.
"We were able to do this totally percutaneously," says Leshnower. "So, no incision. Just with needles and wires."
The procedure took 3 and a half hours.
But Ebrima Bah pulled through it, just like he'd promised.
"That's the greatest thing," his mother smiles. "I love him so much."
Tests show Ebrima's weakened aorta may have been caused by an inherited connective tissue disorder.
So, he'll need to be followed for life.
But, that's the thing, he says.
He's still here: 16 and a very lucky man.
"I'm really happy," says Ebrima. "Because, you know, they did save my life. I'm really blessed to be alive right now."
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