Close call with brain aneurysm gives Myrtle Beach mayor new outlook on life

mprabhu@thesunnews.comJanuary 10, 2013 

— Already skilled in letting negativity roll off his back, Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said he’s even less inclined to be bothered by the small stuff after walking away from a bleeding brain aneurysm.

Rhodes said his doctor, Dr. Terry Belden, told him that only about 10 percent of people survive the ailment – which called for brain surgery at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston on Dec. 29.

“Here I am. I feel good,” he said Thursday afternoon in his office in City Hall. “I’ve got to be careful. I don’t push it too much.”

Rhodes said his ordeal began early in December with a pain at the base of his neck that he noticed after lifting his granddaughter. He said he thought he had pulled a muscle and shrugged it off. Then when he and other City Council members prepared to honor a former Myrtle Beach High School football star on Dec. 26 at the Beach Ball Classic he organizes, Councilman Wayne Gray asked him why he looked so flush and was sweating.

“Those are signs,” he said. “I had symptoms [of an aneurysm] and didn’t even know it.”

Rhodes called brain aneurysms a silent killer since there’s so little information about warning signs. He said he plans to work to educate people about what to look out for to make sure that others are able to avoid what he went through.

On Dec. 27 Rhodes said he ran some errands and arrived at the convention center around 4 p.m. He said he sat down and it felt like two lightening bolts were going through his head and his vision became blurry.

“He came up and said his head hurt,” said Chad Smith, who has worked with Rhodes on the Beach Ball Classic committee for 25 years. “Of course he said he was fine, but looking at him you could tell it was more than just a headache.”

Rhodes had a paramedic at the convention center check his blood pressure and it was 240/130. He said his blood pressure is typically around 130/80. He took a prescribed blood pressure pill but when it did not return to normal the paramedic insisted he go to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center. Belden ordered Rhodes to have an MRI on Dec. 28.

“After the MRI, I was feeling better. I got up and put my pants on and said, ‘Look, I’m going to the ball game,’” Rhodes said about waiting to hear the results.

He said nurses convinced him to stay and when he got back to his room, Belden called to tell him he had an aneurysm.

“That’s when I got real quiet, because I lost my composure,” Rhodes said. “After what felt like a few minutes I asked him what we needed to do.”

Belden told Rhodes he would be taken by ambulance to MUSC and they would run some more tests.

“They said they would need to operate,” he said. “They didn’t tell me what they were going to do, and that’s probably a good thing because if I knew I might have had a heart attack.”

Rhodes said doctors operated on his brain and repaired the aneurysm, which was bleeding, through endovascular coiling. The coils disrupt the blood flow and causes the blood to clot, which seals off the aneurysm from the artery, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Everything went well,” Rhodes said. “It’s amazing. … for them to be able to go up [through the groin] into the brain with these instruments and repair something.”

After being monitored for about a week, he was released from the hospital Saturday. His wife, Terri Springs, was sick with the flu so Smith picked him up and brought him back to Myrtle Beach. When Smith asked Rhodes which route to take to his home, he said he wanted to go straight through town.

“That to me said a lot,” Smith said. “He kept saying he was glad to be back. John really loves Myrtle Beach. For him to want to go right downtown, you could tell he was glad to see his city.”

No plans to leave office

Rhodes said the doctors told him he could continue to lead a normal life. He has no dietary restrictions, but said they did urge he cut back on smoking cigarettes.

Rhodes was elected in 2005 and reelected in 2009. His term expires this year.

“I always said that if my health was good, I’d run [for office] again. The doctors said I could live a normal life,” he said. “I’m running again.”

Rhodes returned from MUSC in time to preside over the City Council workshop and meeting on Tuesday and fell right back into the swing of things, getting into a contentious discussion with Bennie Swans. Swans, chairman of the Carolina African American Heritage Foundation, requested funding for Martin Luther King Jr. events that begin Jan. 19.

“Why are we getting a proposed budget on Jan. 8? [The late request] puts pressure on the council. … I don’t like last-minute tactics,” Rhodes said. “As an organization you know when Martin Luther King weekend is every year – you shouldn’t have issues [preparing a budget]. … As a chairman, you should have had a budget six months ago.”

Swans told the mayor on Tuesday that the timing of his request was not a tactic, but an error that he took responsibility for. Once the exchange was over, Rhodes joked about its intensity.

“I need to take a blood pressure pill,” he said.

Rhodes said the experience made him more eager to tackle certain issues and plans for the city.

“There are things that I’d like for council to do to address tourism in the city and other things,” he said. “We have to continue to grow in new and exciting ways.”

Many on the council said they were thankful to have Rhodes back during Tuesday’s workshop and meeting.

“I’m so happy that you are healthy and well,” said Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means. “God answered our prayers.”

Rhodes joked that he’d heard Gray, who is mayor pro tem, had been spending time in the mayor’s office.

“Wayne was sitting in my chair and spinning around,” Rhodes said.

“I was just sharpening pencils,” Gray joked.

Rhodes said it’s that camaraderie that makes him want to continue to work with the council.

“Everyone on the council, most of us have grown up together and we look out for each other,” he said. “We might disagree and we might pick on each other, but we know that when it’s over, we’re together.”

Appreciative for outpouring of support

Rhodes said he knows that, as mayor, he’s not going to be able to please everyone. There are many residents, of the city and outside areas, who’ve publicly opposed Rhodes and things he’s done, with William “Boz” Martin possibly being one of the most vocal.

“I didn’t hear from Boz. I don’t do Facebook, but I was told that he wished me well on Facebook,” he said.

Rhodes said he was amazed by the outpouring of support he’s received from countless people.

“I was taken by the outpouring of prayers and emails and phone calls and cards I received. It was special,” he said. “And I think those prayers got answered.”

Rhodes said he hated that it sounded cliché, but his experience made him look at life differently.

“It just makes you appreciate everything even more. You just become one of the most appreciative people in the world when you get shaken up. I was scared,” he said. “I joke about it a bit that the phone rang but it was the wrong number. They weren’t ready for me upstairs. Maybe I have other things to accomplish.”

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.

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