After a terrible accident left him barely alive and in need of major reconstruction, Mark Gilbertson found the right team at Mayo Clinic to help piece things back together again. He shares his story below.
My name is Mark Gilbertson, and here’s my story.
I am originally from Brainerd, Minn. I joined the Air Force following high school and retired in 2009 after 22 years of active duty as an aircraft mechanic. I now work for the Boeing Company as an aircraft mechanic at an air base in Hungary. My family and I have lived there for nearly four years.
On Dec. 19, 2012, some workers at the airbase were opening a large hangar door using a steel cable attached to the front of a large truck. The cable was stretched across the road. The weather was rainy, and it was a little dark. As I approached in my car, I did not see the cable, and struck it at about 29 MPH.
The cable ripped off my car's hood, cut through the windshield and posts, and struck me in the mouth. The seat back in my car broke backwards, sending me into the back seat and, ultimately, saving my life. I sustained multiple skull fractures on the right side, including my right eye socket. The left side of my lower jaw was broken into about five pieces, and the bone exited under my face through a laceration. I went into shock immediately.
The ambulance arrived, and a co-worker at the accident scene returned to our building, and with tears in his eyes announced that he didn’t think I would survive. “Mark’s not going to make it. He’s really messed up,” he said to my other co-workers. I was evacuated to a Hungarian hospital, where they stabilized me and patched me back together, securing the jawbones into their original place.
I was in a coma until Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2012. When I woke up, I had no recollection of the events that brought me there. Prayers from family and friends around the world sustained me. I remained in the ER recovery ward until they released me on Jan. 3, 2013. My wife and I, and our five children celebrated Christmas the following day on Jan. 4.
I had some difficulty in the next few days, as the jawbones were not healing. One by one they were becoming necrotic and infected. This resulted in another surgery on Feb. 13 to remove two dead pieces of bone. Then a lower piece of my jawbone died and required removal. I became frustrated and discouraged not knowing the Hungarian language very well (I could not communicate with nurses and doctors) and a socialized health care culture.
Another surgery in Hungary was not an option for me. I received approval to travel to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for the remaining required procedures. This was my primary option, knowing the talent and great reputation of the doctors there.
When I arrived in March, I met Dr. Kevin Arce, Dr. Eric Moore, and their teams. I have never been in the care of such quality health care professionals who were greatly concerned for my medical needs. On Apr. 18, I went into a 12-hour surgery to remove 4.5 inches of fibula bone from my left leg to rebuild my left jaw. The technical medical advancements are astounding!
The doctors were in agreement that the procedure went very well, and I healed rapidly. Following six weeks of physical therapy for my leg, I returned to Hungary and back to work on Jun 10. I returned to the Mayo Clinic again in August for teeth implants. I am currently recovering well, but I am still on a soft food diet. I've lost a total of 16 teeth since the accident.
The care and concern of the Mayo doctors in whose care I am under is amazing. They take the time necessary to ensure I understand the procedures. They also ensure I am comfortable and have all my questions answered. I have never experienced this level of care with any medical procedure in my life to this point.
I have complete faith in the skill of the Mayo Clinic doctors. I am very thankful to receive the care that I need from these health care professionals.