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BULLET VICTIM CAN THANK HIS DOCTORS WITH WHOLE HEART

A man shot in the chest was recovering from surgery Saturday after two innovative doctors used nothing but their fingers for nearly two hours to plug a bullet hole in his wounded heart.

"I think it was a good save," said Dr. Wendy Marshall, director of trauma and the aeromedical service at Loyola University's McGaw Hospital. "I think we were lucky. He's doing OK. He's going to be all right."Tommy Lee Hairston, 29, of Joliet, was shot in the chest Wednesday night, according to police and taken to Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet where Dr. Umesh Sharma repaired two large holes in the lung.

But early Thursday, Hairston started to bleed through a chest tube, forcing Sharma to surgically open Hairston's chest.

Sharma, chief of the trauma unit, said he found two holes in the pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart. He said he fixed a small entrance wound in the front but was unable to repair a larger hole in back of the heart.

To correctly sew up this 1 1/2-inch opening in the back, doctors needed a special cardiopulmonary bypass machine so the heart could be stopped - a machine the Silver Cross Hospital did not have.

Sharma called Marshall to transfer the patient by helicopter.

Meanwhile, the only way Sharma could stop the bleeding was by inserting three fingers to cover the rupture - a measure often used for a few minutes, according to Marshall. Sharma ended up plugging the hole 45 minutes until Marshall arrived.

Marshall then used her fingers to cover the hole for another 50 minutes from the time the helicopter left Joliet on a 14-minute run to Maywood until Hairston was placed on the bypass machine at McGaw.

"I have never had any experience like this before," Marshall said Saturday while making the rounds at McGaw. "I've done it in the emergency room but never before on a helicopter. This has got to be one of the longest times - if not the longest - that we've used our fingers to cover an injury like this."