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Aneurysm Surgery: Patient Jim Donnell

Aneurysm Surgery: Patient Jim Donnell
“An Aneurysm Almost Cost Me My Leg.”

Jim Donnell was an active retiree when a painful aneurysm struck. But thanks to a vascular surgeon who saved his leg, Jim’s hard work and family who supported him through rehab, Jim is back to the life he loves. 

Jim Donnell, 81, recently returned from spring training. He makes the trip to Florida each year to watch professional baseball and enjoy friends. 

It’s hard to tell that this retired high school principal and coach nearly lost his leg and his very active life – working in his garden and caring for his animals at the family farm, enjoying sports, and socializing with friends. But if he had not come to Wake Forest Baptist and Dr. Christopher Godshall, his life would now be very different.

Jim’s week of pain and two surgeries began with a small aneurysm

What started out as a mild pain in the back of his right leg eventually brought Jim to his knees. “I had a blockage in the back of my right knee the size of a golf ball,” Jim said. “At first the pain was mild. But then it got so bad that I was nauseous and couldn’t eat.”  He underwent emergency aneurysm surgery to remove the aneurysm, as well as sections of his right calf. Following the surgery, Jim, a diabetic, had no circulation in his right foot and faced possible amputation of his leg.  “I was in agony,” Jim said. “When I got my wits about me, I said that I wanted a second opinion.”

Jim has a second emergency operation…and his leg is saved

At 3 p.m. that Friday, Jim and his daughter, Candy, came to Wake Forest Baptist and met with Dr. Godshall and his vascular surgery team. “Dr. Godshall walked in and said, ‘Let’s just start over,’” Candy Donnell said. “Dr. Godshall explained everything and told us there were no guarantees, but that he was willing to try to help. We were determined to save Dad’s foot and leg.”

The surgery took place that very evening and lasted more than five hours. Dr. Godshall used a vein in his leg to make a bypass around the damaged aortic system. It was successful – but that was just the beginning. Jim faced a long, painful road to recovery. 


Patient Jim Donnell


Rehabilitation was difficult, but Jim is now back to the life he loves

Jim had eight skin graft surgeries on his leg. Each time the bandages were changed, he received morphine to fend off part of the pain. The wounds took almost a year to heal. Candy learned the basics of wound care and, with the help of nurses who visited their home, helped her father through his recovery.

After his aneurysm surgery and graft surgeries, Jim also went through extensive rehabilitation. “I wanted to be independent,” Jim said. “I had to relearn how to get up and down and relearn to walk. At his last visit to Dr. Godshall, Jim learned he was ahead of the curve and doing better than expected in his recovery.

Now he is back to working in his garden and taking care of his animals, as well as daily exercise – and spring training.  “I feel like I’m really fortunate to have the movement I’ve got. I’m just so grateful.”

Contact Wake Forest Baptist 

Request an appointment online. Or, for more information about aneurysm surgery, please call 888-716-WAKE.


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Last Updated: 01-08-2016
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