’It’s a miracle that I’m still sitting here’: Squirrels’ GM recounts health scare

"It's a miracle that I'm still sitting here"

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT)- It was the late summer of 2019. The Flying Squirrels were just wrapping up their tenth season in the River City. Ben Rothrock, the team’s general manager, had been feeling fatigued and couldn’t seem to shake it. After visiting a handful of doctors, things got progressively worse.

"I was tired of living the way I was," Rothrock recalled. "I was just beat. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't even pick up my kids. I couldn't walk up the steps."

In January, Ben visited a cardiologist, who, after running some tests, discovered that he needed his aortic valve replaced. That would mean open heart surgery.

“I was flabbergasted, obviously, and I said ‘open-heart surgery? Are you kidding? I’m 39-years old!’”

But before his surgeon could perform his surgery, doctors had to get some antibiotics out of Rothrock's system. After a failed CAT scan on a Thursday, he had to return on a Friday for a do-over. This would end up being the most crucial point of Ben's story.

"That CAT-scan basically saved my life."

A review of that scan showed that Ben's problems were far worse, and led to an urgent phone call during a family dinner that Friday night.

"Ben, we need you to go into Henrico Doctors right now," he remembered the doctor's office saying.

Rothrock spent Super Bowl weekend in the hospital under observation, then endured a 12-hour surgery that Monday. Doctors replaced his aortic valve and repaired a tear in his aorta, suffered during a previously unknown cardiac event. His surgeon estimated that the tear likely happened 18 months to two years ago.

"Any second of any minute of any hour of any day leading up to that surgery, I could've died," he said.

But he wasn't out of the woods yet. A little less than two weeks after the first operation, Rothrock began experiencing fever spikes, so it was another trip back into the hospital. That's where doctors discovered pockets of fluid build-up in his chest, requiring a second operation.

“They performed the surgery, and I woke up later that afternoon realizing what happened.”

In total, Rothrock spent five weeks in the hospital and has been out since the first week of March. He’s been working to build up his strength and endurance. The Richmond GM made it through with the help of a fantastic medical team and a great support system, including his family, and Todd “Parney” Parnell, his Flying Squirrels’ front office mate, and a longtime close friend, who visited the hospital every single day.

"Just to see him fight, it was amazing," Parney said. "I remember when he woke up, he said two things to me when I got back into the room. He couldn't really talk, but he whispered in my ear 'I want to tell my story because I'm here for a reason."

"They say you're granted a second chance at life, and it's really that way," Rothrock added. "You take in every single detail a lot differently than you did before."

Good care and a little luck got Rothrock to this point. His surgeon told him that he's just one of four people the doctor has encountered to survive similar cardiac events and surgery.

“It’s a miracle. It truly is,” Rothrock said. “It’s a miracle that I’m still sitting here, it’s a miracle that I get to see my wife and my kids every day, it’s a miracle that I get to see my family everyday.”

Now, Ben’s telling his story in hopes that his experience can help others who have questions about their health or that don’t feel right to find the answers they need.

"If I can help one person live when their body is deteriorating or if there's something wrong, I want to help that person."

“He knows that he’s here because God is not finished with him,” added Parney. “He’s got great things ahead of him that he’s got to do and people’s lives that he has to touch in a very positive way and I’m sure that Benny will do that.”

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