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Ex-Marine who survived impalement: ‘Just a lucky guy’

When former Marine Andrew Linn drove into a chain-link fence, a pole from it went through his mouth and out the side of his neck. Of his miraculous survival, he said Wednesday: “I’m just a lucky guy who had some really great doctors.”
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Andrew Linn has made cheating death a habit. Even so, his survival after being impaled by a pipe had the veteran trauma doctor who helped save his life shaking his head in amazement Wednesday.

“It’s a miracle,’’ Linn’s doctor, Jay Coates, told TODAY’s Ann Curry while sitting next to an appreciative Linn and his wife in Studio 1A. “A couple centimeters in either direction of that pipe, and I don’t think Andy would be here.’’

Linn appeared on TODAY Wednesday with his wife, Melanie, and Coates to recount how he narrowly avoided death for the third time — and even remained awake through the entire ordeal. Prior to using up the third of his seeming nine lives, the Cedar City, Utah, resident and U.S. Marine Corps veteran had already survived roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices on a tour of duty in Iraq.

Then he returned home, only to be hit in 2008 by a speeding drunk driver. Linn made it through with only a neck injury that required minor surgery.

His third near-death experience, however, was by far the most frightening.

“I’m so thankful for this second to chance to enjoy my family, my friends and everyone,’’ Linn told NBC News. “I’m just a lucky guy who had some unbelievably great doctors. I didn’t do anything miraculous: They did.’’

Late-night drive
Linn’s latest ordeal began when he and his family were visiting his parents in Las Vegas last Thanksgiving. The 28-year-old father of two young children hopped in his car to get something to eat, and during the drive, he veered off the road and crashed into a chain link fence.

A pole from the fence that was about 2 inches in diameter crashed through the windshield and entered Linn’s mouth just below his nose and above his upper lip, shattering his teeth. The pole then violently exited the right side of his neck before penetrating the back window of the car.

Not only did the pipe somehow miss Linn’s spine, jugular vein and carotid artery; he also remained awake afterward, although he does not remember anything from the horrific crash and its aftermath. Firefighters had to cut part of the pipe off just to get him out of the car, and he was conscious and communicating as they placed him, sitting up, on a gurney. He could not lie down because of the pipe, yet he even whipped out his cellphone and tried to send a text message.

“Fortunately, I didn’t have to really go through too much [because] I didn’t remember,’’ Linn told Curry. “I’m sure it was bad.’’

After being rushed to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, Linn underwent a 50-minute surgery by a team of doctors in which the jagged pipe sticking out the back of his head was recut in order to prevent profuse bleeding when it was removed. While Coates performed a tracheotomy, cutting a hole in the front of Linn’s neck to get to his windpipe and insert a breathing tube, Linn was calm and alert, talking to Coates the whole time.

“The body is an amazing thing,’’ Coates told Curry. “There might have been a little bit of a disconnect with him, clearly, and that’s probably why he doesn’t remember. That’s not uncommon.’’

Once in a lifetime
Coates, who famously operated on Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy fame after Horn was nearly fatally mauled by a tiger in 2003, said the initial problem was controlling his airways so that he was able to be operated on. Even for a veteran trauma doctor who has seen some grisly scenes, Coates had never witnessed anything like Linn’s predicament before.

“I doubt I’ll ever see another one like this in my lifetime,’’ he told NBC News. “The minute you pull this pipe out, all hell could break loose, and he could start bleeding profusely. That was really the concern, of whether he was going to have permanent injuries from lack of blood flow to his brain.’’

Dr. Jeff Moxley, an oral surgeon, delicately removed the pipe, and there was no excessive bleeding.

“People who are in accidents like this go to the morgue, not the emergency room,” Moxley later told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It’s just a miracle he lived.”

Meanwhile, having received word from her father-in-law about her husband’s condition, Melanie Linn had rushed to the hospital. “I was in complete shock,’’ she told Curry. “I didn’t actually get the call, and that’s what worried me. He didn’t tell somebody, ‘Call my wife.’

“It was a long ride to the hospital.’’

Linn does not remember anything until waking up after the surgery, when the devout Mormon finally realized the gravity of his situation. All it took was one look at the gruesome X-ray of the piece of pipe sticking out of the back of his skull to remind him.

Linn has been left with only half a mouth of teeth, with no bone on the other side that could be used for an implant. He will need an artificial plate and implants.

“When I came to after the surgery and they told me what happened, I was pretty shook up, to say the least,’’ Linn said. “I was very emotional and scared.’’

Grateful to still be alive, Linn looks to cherish every moment with his family and continue his progress toward a business marketing degree at Southern Utah University.

“[I want to] continue to spend time with my family,’’ he told Curry. “Continue on with life and make the most of it. Make a good [thing] out of a bad thing.’’