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Survivor story: Surgeries give Alabama man new lease on life

By By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
Dec. 3, 2001
Ben Wheeler lived most of his life without much sickness or complaints until he turned 70 earlier this year, when he said everything went wrong.
In a three-month period beginning in late August, Wheeler underwent three major surgeries at Rush Foundation Hospital to correct life-threatening conditions.
Wheeler, who had been working as a truck driver in Cuba, Ala., until his surgeries, was taken to Rush Medical Group doctors in July by his boss Ralph Parten, owner of Parten Truck Lines.
Then, on Aug. 22, Wheeler had quadruple bypass heart surgery. Two weeks later, on Sept. 4, he had abdominal aorta aneurysm repair surgery. And seven weeks after that, on Oct. 22, he had lung resection surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.
Watching his health
Wheeler, who was in town for a check-up last week at Rush Medical Group, said he feels better since the surgeries. His oncologist will determine if any additional treatment for the cancer is needed.
Dr. Brooks Gray, a general and vascular surgeon who is overseeing Wheeler's recovery, said his progress is remarkable.
Ten to 15 years ago, Gray said, a doctor may have placed his hand on the shoulder of a patient in Wheeler's condition and told him there wasn't much that could be done.
Celebrating success
Wheeler was released from the hospital on Nov. 9 following his surgeries at a going-away party with his doctors, nurses, cake, punch and balloons. Gray gave him a cap that said "SURVIVOR."
While in the hospital, Wheeler stayed spry and optimistic.
Annette Drennan, president of Specialty Hospital, said Wheeler made an impact on everybody.
Wheeler plans to take things easy now.
Wheeler is retiring from his truck driving job of eight years, but his boss still looks out for him. Parten is helping to oversee Wheeler's recovery with the assistance of home health services.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at