Avera Medical Minute: Purple Heart recipient has his own heart fixed at Avera

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 10:42 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Tim Brinkley is a Vietnam war veteran.

He’s received not just one, but three purple hearts for his service.

The first one was an incoming mortar round in the back of the barracks. They tried to overrun our camp, but they didn’t get it done. The second one, we were booby-trapped walking. The third one, we were caught in an ambush, and I lost 15 men in that day,” said Tim Brinkley.

That day could have been Brinkley’s last.

But another man, Don Jenkins, rescued him.

Jenkins would go on to receive a congressional medal of honor for saving Brinkley’s life.

“I’ve been pretty lucky,” said Brinkley. “I’m living on borrowed time.”

Now, Mr. Brinkley has a few others to thank for saving his life and offering him more of that borrowed time.

“Every patient is important. But people like Mr. Brinkley who put their life on the line so many times, it’s nice to be able to give back,” said Dr. Meghana Helder, a cardiovascular surgeon at Avera.

Brinkley is now on the other side of heart surgery.

He went in for a routine checkup earlier this year, and the doctor noticed something wasn’t right.

“He said, ‘You’ve got an aorta that is expanding.’ And he said if we don’t take care of it, it could explode,” said Brinkley.

The man with three purple hearts had an issue with his own.

He was transferred from the VA to Avera Health where the team there oversaw his care.

Brinkley had some nerves going into the surgery and said cardiovascular surgeon Meghana Helder talked him through the procedure beforehand.

“She gave us all the details as far as what the chances were of not coming back. She said it’s quite a surgery, but she said, ‘I’ve done it before, many many times.’ She said, ‘if you got through Vietnam, you’ll get through this!”

Brinkley got through it rather well, according to his surgeon.

“I remember seeing him the next day and he was ready. He was ready to run laps around the entire hospital. And that speaks to him, and that speaks to how far we’ve come in cardiac surgery to be able to take care of patients when they have these huge diseases,” said Dr. Helder.

Brinkley wouldn’t have known something was wrong had he not gone in for his yearly checkup.

He’s now using his time to advocate others do the same.

“Aand if I wouldn’t have been in, this whole thing probably could’ve turned out a whole lot different,” said Brinkley.

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