“It’s really a miracle that I’m still alive,” said Don Rousu, 58, of Browerville.
He’s currently living with 2 feet of intestines. Normally a man’s body has about 22 feet and are very important in retaining nutrients, he said.
It started in 1977 when Rousu was accidentally shot in the stomach while he was hunting. Even though he recovered from the gunshot wound, it left him with an incisional hernia (a weakness in the abdominal muscle which permits abdominal
tissue to stick out through the muscle) where the bullet had entered.
“It just ripped the tissue so much and left a bulge in my stomach. Once in a while my intestine would get stuck in it, so I’d have to go into the ER (emergency room) and the doctor would push it loose,” he said.
But that came to a halt in 1982. When medical personnel could no longer push the intestine loose, Rousu underwent surgery to clear the obstruction.
“They told me that they wanted to try a new technology called ‘Prolene Mesh,’ because that would fix the hernia and that I wouldn’t have any problems for the rest of my life,” Rousu said.
Most people who received the implant only had a small piece implanted, Rousu said. Because he had a lot of scars from previous surgeries, his doctor determined it was best to cover his entire abdomen.
It wasn’t until later he learned that the manufacturers had failed at giving surgeons instructions on how to implant the mesh properly.
All seemed well over the next 26 years, until he suffered an intestinal blockage once again. He was seen by bariatric surgeon Dr. Howard Lederer at Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria, who was only there to fill in for other surgeons, Rousu said.
“He said that when he opened me up, he couldn’t find any intestines and that the mesh had basically turned into duct tape over the years,” Rousu said.
He was given the explanation that his small intestine had stuck to the mesh, which caused his body to believe it was something it needed to fight against. As a result, his body wrapped scar tissue and adhesions around the intestines, choked the blood flow and ultimately killed them.
In order to find good tissue to suture the opening, 18 inches of Rousu’s intestines were removed. At first it looked like the surgery was successful, but three days later, intestinal fluids started to leak out of the incision.
When Rousu started to go septic, he was transferred to Hennepin County Medical Center where Dr. Lederer was working.
After three months of having nearly a dozen surgeries in an attempt to stop the leakage long-term, Rousu was discharged from the hospital.
“They had done so many surgeries that the staples wouldn’t hold my stomach shut anymore. They told me they didn’t think there was anything I could do, but to go home or go into a nursing home. I figured it was better to be home,” Rousu said.
In total, Rousu has had 36 surgeries related to his intestinal condition. Each time, if it wasn’t repairable, a part of his intestines were removed. He was ultimately left with 23 inches.
The inability to retain nutrients affected his weight and overall health. When he first fell ill in 2008, he weighed nearly 200 pounds. By 2015, still standing at 5 feet, 11 inches, he weighed only 136 pounds.
“I went on the IV feedings then, but the side effects were terrible and made me an instant diabetic,” Rousu said.
After his last surgery in February 2016, he finally told the medical personnel that he had had enough of the IV feeding and would just trust God to take care of him.
“He’s brought me back from death a couple of times already. I believe I will go when it’s my time to go, but evidently he still has things he wants me to do,” Rousu said.
When Rousu left the hospital, his intestines were still leaking. Despite everything that had been done for Rousu, medical personnel were unable to stop the leak.
Several months later, an ultrasound revealed that the leak had healed on its own — something the doctors cannot explain, he said.
Rousu also gained weight and now weighs 175 pounds.
“They told me that I’m the only living person they know, living with 2 feet of intestines and surviving without any IV feedings. It is indeed a miracle that I am still here,” Rousu said.