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February 2011 Issue

Michael Bowen (left), who administers the UC Health airway reconstruction program, was on hand as Rick Eagan and his wife, Margaret, celebrated Eagan’s election to the Brown County Commission. Eagan took office Jan. 1
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Patient Regains Voice, Wins Seat as Brown County Commissioner With Help of Surgical Procedure and UC Health Airway Program

By Katy Cosse
Published February 2011

In April 2010, Rick Eagan made a phone call to his wife, Margaret. It wasn’t a long call, but Margaret remembers it word for word: "He said, ‘Hi, I love you.’ I hadn’t heard that since Nov. 24.”

Eagan was at Ohio Valley Manor Rehabilitation Center in Ripley, just weeks after having his airway reconstructed by UC Health head and neck surgeon Yash Patil, MD.

He hadn’t been able to speak for five months, after a devastating car accident in November 2009. Eagan was driving to work from his Georgetown home Nov. 24 when he hit a deer. Blinded by his truck’s airbag, he stepped out and was hit himself by another car.

From the Mercy Medical Center emergency room in Mt. Orab, he was transferred to UC Health University Hospital.

"I thought we would lose him,” says Margaret Eagan. "He actually died three times, and they brought him back.”

Eagan spent months in intensive care, first on a ventilator, then with a tracheostomy. In early 2010, surgeons amputated Eagan’s right leg below the knee and inserted plates and screws into his crushed right arm.

After the trauma service could not remove the tracheostomy tube without Eagan having difficulty breathing, they consulted head and neck surgeon Keith Casper, MD, and physician assistant Michael Bowen, both part of UC Health’s Adult Airway Reconstruction Program.

"With these patients, their trachea can become easily damaged following long-term intubation or tracheostomy,” says Bowen, who administers the UC Health airway reconstruction program.

"Dr. Casper and I had a look in his airway, and with his health at the time, he wasn’t a candidate for major reconstruction.”

Eagan spent the next several months unable to speak and struggling with rehabilitation.

His injuries put his goal of running for Brown County commissioner on hold, though he had run for the seat twice before and had already announced his candidacy for the upcoming election.

Though his wife and children, daughter Tiffany, 21, and son Doug, 23, insisted he continue his campaign, he wasn’t sure until he saw Bowen for a second evaluation in early March.

Now, in inpatient rehabilitation, Eagan had again been referred to the UC Health airway program—but this time, Bowen felt he was able to withstand surgery.

The procedure required insertion of a trachael T-tube, a device that holds open the airway and allows for speech with a trach button. Though surgery was successful, the T-tube comes with a high risk of airway obstruction and requires extensive postoperative care and management, so Bowen personally visited and worked with the Manor Valley staff to ensure Eagan’s care after the procedure.

"I spoke with nursing, respiratory—they all had my direct number. I had to be OK with it, because taking care of that tube is just paramount,” Brown said.

After he regained speech, Eagan’s recovery continued, and he gained more movement in his arm and new prosthetic leg.

He also started on the campaign trail, riding in parades and talking individually with voters.

Last November, he won the seat, ousting the incumbent with 56.38 percent of the vote. He made sure to invite Bowen to his victory celebration.

"Mike and the staff are really wonderful,” says Eagan. "They’re personable, they care about you and they let you know what’s going on.”

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