Saving Mr. Borst

An Ames man needed a medical miracle fast. Here's how he found it at Mary Greeley Medical Center.

By Jason Mortvedt

On Wednesday, September 2, Bob Borst was in the back of a Mary Greeley ambulance when a major artery burst and his heart stopped beating.

On Tuesday, September 8, against all odds, he went home. What transpired between those two events is a miraculous story of what can happen when a team of dedicated medical professionals call on all their skills to save a life.

This is that dramatic story, told by the people who lived it.


6 a.m.
Bob Borst: I remember having these pains in my abdomen. I’m like a normal guy who will put off going to the doctor as long as I can. But I knew that morning…I knew I was going to have to go in.

Linda Borst, Bob’s wife: Bob likes to sleep in, but he was up early that day saying he woke up with severe abdominal pain clear across his abdomen. He said to me, ‘Why don’t you get cleaned up so we can go in?’ But he was in no big rush.

7:30 a.m.
Dr. Jonathan Burns, McFarland Clinic Emergency Medicine: A CT scan of Bob’s abdomen showed he had developed an aneurysm of his spleen. It’s a weakness in the artery that tends to be very fragile and can rupture. These cases are really, really high risk. I talked to a vascular surgeon in Des Moines who was going to do the procedure to fix the aneurysm.

Aneurysm Illustration

Bob had an aneurysm, a blood-filled
balloon-like bulge the size of a lemon,
in the wall of the artery running to his spleen.

9:30 a.m.
Jim Pepper, Mary Greeley Medical Center paramedic: Dr. Burns told me, ‘He’s a ticking time bomb. Right now he’s stable, but there’s potential for him to become unstable.’ Most patient transfers are pretty uneventful, but we’re always ready for anything.

Linda: Bob asked me to run home and get his toiletry case, his Bible and things. The two EMT guys came in. Jim patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘He’s in good hands. We’ll take good care of him and meet you there.’

9:32 a.m.
Jim: Jeff Larson (Mary Greeley paramedic) was driving the ambulance and I was in the back with Bob. I was just going to manage his pain and be there with him. We were almost to Dayton Road, no sirens, fairly routine. It was getting a little stuffy in the ambulance so I asked Bob, ‘Are you warm?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m warm.’ I got up to adjust the AC and when I turned back around, Bob was unresponsive. I yelled to Jeff, ‘He coded!’ Jeff shouted, ‘Hold on, we’re turning around.’

9:43 a.m.
Dr. Burns: We were starting to get busy in the ER when the call came in – the patient was in cardiac arrest and they were coming back. Unfortunately in the ER we get patients who are in cardiac arrest all the time. In this case, I knew exactly why. The artery had burst and was pumping blood into Bob’s abdomen.

Jim: I started CPR while also hooking up oxygen and other equipment. That two to three minute drive back to the hospital seemed like forever – but at the same time seemed to fly by.

Dr. Burns: We’ve established a “massive transfusion protocol” for patients who need a lot of blood really fast. A nurse immediately sprinted to the blood bank to get blood. Staff prepped the trauma room in the ER. I called the operating room and talked to Dr. Taylor. The likelihood of a patient having a good outcome in a situation like this is very low. I was asking Dr. Taylor to basically do the impossible.

Dr. Mark Taylor, McFarland Clinic General Surgery: I was finishing up an appendectomy when Dr. Burns called. I told him we’ll do what we can. I said to OR nurse Gina Crisman, ‘Get me a room, get me some blood, and get me some people.’

Gina Crisman, Mary Greeley Medical Center Operating Room clinical coordinator of daily operations: Part of my job is triaging everything that comes in – whether we need to stop the daily routine to act on an emergency. I needed to pick some specific nurses to perform this case. I pulled an anesthesiologist for them, and we pulled in another one. We make arrangements for an ICCU bed, massive blood protocol – all before the patient comes back to the OR.

Linda: I was on my way home – not even halfway home and I get a call from the ER. Trying to be very calm, the woman said there has been a change in Bob’s medical condition. I panicked and asked what happened? She very calmly told me to come back to the emergency room.

Jim Pepper preps the inside of an ambulance.

Jim Pepper, Mary Greeley
paramedic, preps equipment
inside of an ambulance.

9:48 a.m.
Jim: Pulling into the ambulance garage, I started getting a weak pulse. The team of paramedics and staff in the ER jumped right in to help. Dr. Burns came in and I relayed information to him. I was walking out as Linda was coming in. I told her, ‘He’s alive, but he’s very, very critical.’

Dr. Burns: In these situations it’s like putting water back into a bucket with a big hole in it. We had everything ready to go. We had the amount of O-negative blood for resuscitation. From the time Bob went into cardiac arrest until he was undergoing surgery in the OR was under 30 minutes. You’d be hard pressed to find a major trauma center that can make that happen that fast.

10 a.m.
Linda: I was greeted at the door by Michelle Sweeney (Mary Greeley Social Worker) and Katherine Werner (Mary Greeley Chaplaincy Services Coordinator). I was taken to a room and they explained that Bob’s heart had stopped, Jim had done CPR and they were prepping him for surgery. Michelle asked if I wanted to see him. People were all around him and I just sat and watched as they wheeled him away to the operating room.

Michelle Sweeney, Mary Greeley Medical Center social worker: Linda was pretty frantic, pretty shaken up. Anytime there’s a trauma, we’re called in to assist with the family, primarily providing emotional support. I brought her back into the ER and sat with her there while the nurses and staff gave her an update and we waited for Dr. Taylor.

10:15 a.m.
Dr. Taylor: I got out of the appendectomy and talked to Bob’s wife and gave her a realistic explanation of what might happen. Bob had a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm. In the ambulance, it blew up like a blood grenade in his belly. It’s a condition with a 90 percent mortality rate. You have to have a lot of skill, a great team and a lot of luck to have a good outcome.

Linda: Dr. Taylor had done lung surgery on Bob previously and we just think the world of him. He’ll tell it as it is. I remember him saying to me, ‘I don’t think Bob will be with us at the end of the day. I don’t want to be the guy in the movies who comes out of the operating room and says, ‘Well we did everything we could.’’ He said, ‘I just want you to know how serious this is.’ I sat in the surgery waiting room with my two pastors and we prayed. We prayed for a miracle!

Dr. Taylor: The part the team played cannot be overplayed. If not for that, he would have been dead. We stole anesthesiologists from three OR rooms – Dr. Stephanie Donnelly, Dr. Traci Shogren-Knaak, Dr. Matthew Okland. Dr. Jean Hermsen (an ear, nose and throat specialist) was in the hall saying, ‘Hey, can I help?’ I told her I didn’t want to delay her cases. She said, ‘Well you already took my anesthesiologist.’ So she came and helped for the first half of the case to get control of the bleeding. Dr. Benjamin Schlicher (McFarland Clinic general surgeon) helped with isolation of the aneurysm. My scrub nurse Tami Weig helped me tremendously. I basically strolled into the room like the lead guitarist in the band.

His aneurysm was the size of a lemon running along that artery. The thin wall sprung a leak, pumping two liters of blood into his belly. I basically stuck my finger in the hole until the anesthesiologists could give him a bunch of blood and get him back to life. We took his spleen out and closed the hole in the artery.

11:17 a.m.
Linda: It’s kind of a blur how long it took. Finally Dr. Taylor came in and said it would be critical the next 24-48 hours, but Bob made it through. Dr. Taylor drew on the white board where the aneurysm was and explained how he repaired it. I said to him ‘Can I shake your hand?’ and he reached down and gave me a hug.

12 p.m.
Julie Scebold, Mary Greeley Medical Center ICCU supervisor: We got him as a critical patient right after surgery. It was very touch and go how he was going to do. He came up intubated, on a ventilator. We were watching him very closely. When patients like this come to our unit, we team together. We take the team approach. There are multiple nurses at the bedside.

Linda: The nursing staff in the ICCU was absolutely incredible. All the way around, everyone was incredible. The nurses were just so compassionate. They would hold his hand – you could just see the compassion.


8 a.m.
Dr. Taylor: Bob stayed intubated. But he is incredibly strong and woke up and got off the ventilator. He’s in good shape. Dr. Matt Gillman (McFarland Clinic pulmonologist) managed the ventilator post-op. He did an excellent job getting him weaned off, preventing pneumonia or any other negative side effects.

Bob: I remember waking up in the ICCU and seeing the folks that worked with us. They were so compassionate, caring, and responsive. They were wonderful. I worked in the Department of Corrections for 35 years. I know the stress can be hard on folks and take a toll. But this wasn’t the case with the nurses in the ICCU. They were just wonderful!

2 p.m.
Jim: I went up to Bob’s room. He was sitting up and looking good. Linda said, ‘There he is!’ and came and gave me a big hug with tears running down her face. She thanked me for everything I did for Bob. It feels good. It’s nice to have these instances where your actions and decisions make a difference. The whole process and the teamwork – everything went as planned. The system worked the way it was supposed to.


Cake given to Dr. Taylor.

Bob and Linda wanted to bring
us in a cake. They planned to
order one in the shape of a spleen,
but nobody at the cake place
knew what a spleen looked like!
– Dr. Taylor

10 a.m.
Linda: The whole healing process was just incredible! He was out of the ICCU on Saturday and discharged on Tuesday. It really is a miracle and we thank God!

Dr. Burns: It was amazing to see that much teamwork and those resources come together exactly the way they did. Had one thing gone differently, we would have a different result. There were hundreds of pieces to this puzzle that had to come together and they did – seamlessly.

Bob: God still does miracles! He uses very skilled and professional people to pull those off sometimes. I feel so blessed. I try not to think about it often. To know my heart stopped and due to the good care, they were able to revive me and do what was necessary to bring me back. I’m so thankful I’m still alive today!

Emergency Care at Mary Greeley

The Mary Greeley Medical Center Emergency Department is ready to help you through those emergencies with a dedicated team of highly trained and compassionate medical professionals. We are a Level III trauma center, which means we are capable of treating almost every injury or illness on site.

Read more.

Video Extra

Borst Video

Watch the emotional reunion where Bob and Linda Borst thank the team of physicians and staff that helped save Bob’s life.

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