Boston man thankful for quick-thinking friends after suffering near-death experience

BOSTON, Mass. – An employee at Brigham and Women’s Hospital went from helping patients come up with treatment plans to becoming a patient himself, and now, he feels lucky to be alive after suffering a near-death experience over the summer.

As a medical dosimetrist, Tony Orlina has dedicated much of his working life to helping some of the sickest cancer patients at the Brigham.

“It’s more like a second home, I’m always here,” Orlina said. “Like the postman, snow, sleet, rain – you know I’ll be there!”

If work is his second home, Orlina’s coworkers are his second family.

“He’s one of my best friends, and one of my first few friends in Boston,” said Yaguang Pei, one of Orlina’s coworkers. “He’s very open, and he’s very friendly.”

Orlina has a reputation for being extremely responsible and extremely punctual, so when his desk was unexpectedly empty one July morning, his colleagues knew something was wrong.

“I was trying not to panic too much,” said Orlina’s friend and coworker Anand Nathan Somasundaram. “I was like, ‘maybe he just overslept’, but Tony never oversleeps.”

Concerned, Pei and Somasundaram came up with a plan. Pei headed to Orlina’s apartment – where he lives alone – only to find him dazed and disoriented.

“I spontaneously just threw up and then at that point I just kind of like had a throbbing headache and I just wanted to lay down,” Orlina said. “That’s the last thing I remember.”

The next thing Orlina remembers is waking up in the neurosciences intensive care unit at the Brigham and being told he had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm.”[My doctor] told me what had happened and that I had an aneurysm,” Orlina said. “But it wasn’t until after I got better that he told me how serious it was.”

Doctor Mohammad Ali Aziz-Sultan performed emergency brain surgery on Orlina. He says half of people who suffer ruptured brain aneurysms die before they reach the hospital.

“Tony is very, very lucky,” said Dr. Aziz-Sultan. “Of those 50% that actually make it to me, 30% don’t make it out of the hospital, 30% -- another third -- are severely debilitated, and a third of that then go on to a long recovery. So, he’s immensely lucky and immensely strong.”

Aziz-Sultan said Orlina had one of the worst cases, but one of the best recoveries, he has ever seen.

”He gives more than he takes, and he is a consistent, good person that does good work,” said Aziz-Sultan. “This man goes out of his way to be very welcoming and kind and helping people around him. All the people that he loved and cared and gave to circled back.”

Aziz-Sultan said Orlina survived thanks in part to his quick-thinking friends who salvaged precious time by going to check on him.

”I can’t Imagine what could have happened,” said Pei. “Right now, I’m just so thankful for the way it happened, because this is probably the best-case scenario.”

During the pandemic, Orlina never took a day off. Now, he plans to travel more and spend some quality time with his chosen family away from their second home.

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