Justin ‘Judd’ McGill benefit takes place Saturday, April 6 at Mettatuxet Yacht Club
NARRAGANSETT - Justin McGill woke up on a Friday morning in February and headed for the YMCA for an early morning swim - a routine he had become accustomed to as part of his weekly workouts that included swimming, biking, running and yoga. The 41-year-old Narragansett resident, husband, and father of three, didn’t have any inclination as to what was to come.
“I felt fine,” said McGill. “I got to the Y and swam early. Sometimes I go at 5 a.m. I had just finished 10 100-meter sets and was doing some fin work under water. I felt a strange sensation in my chest.”
McGill said the sensation was painful and made him weak, but he managed to get himself out of the pool.
“I pushed out of the pool and had to lie down on the floor. I was really weak and had this weird feeling in my chest,” he said in an interview just three weeks after the incident. “The lifeguard got there really quick. He asked what was wrong and what I wanted him to do. I told him I thought he should call an ambulance.”
Emergency services arrived and McGill was transported to South County Hospital.
“They had me on a monitor,” he said. “But the feeling in my chest was really weird and I was jumping around. I couldn’t stay still.”
Justin called his wife, Dawn, a registered nurse who had just started her job as a school nurse in Westerly. He told Dawn to go to work. McGill was taken for a CT scan that revealed an aortic aneurysm and dissection. The aorta had not only ballooned but had burst. Justin needed open heart surgery. He was transported by Medevac to Massachusetts General Hospital.
“I got lucky. Everyone did their job right,” said McGill. Between phone calls, he tried to meditate. “The main thing I was thinking about was my kids and Dawn.”
McGill’s wife and mother drove to Boston to meet the helicopter and take care of necessary paperwork. They arrived first.
When the helicopter landed, McGill was taken directly to the surgical suite for preparation. His surgery took six hours from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“They had to take his heart out and put it on a table,” said Ryan Maguire, one of McGill’s best friends. “It was like a sci-fi movie.”
McGill came through the surgery, involving replacement of several inches of one aorta and heart valve, stabilizing and recovering quickly. A large group of his family and friends stayed at the hospital during and after the open heart surgery. His wife, siblings, two of his boys and countless others roamed in and out of Mass General waiting to hear the news.
“My mom called me and said they were taking Justin to the hospital,” Justin’s brother, Ryan McGill, said. “Then she called me back and said they were transporting him to Mass General because of an aortic aneurysm. It was pretty shocking. My brother was in the best shape of anyone I knew. I was on the way to Boston before the helicopter.“
The surgery took several hours, lasting into the night said his brother and when he saw Justin, Ryan was shocked at how good he looked.
“I didn’t get to see him until the next morning. When I did, it was shocking. His color had returned. He looked better than he had before.”
McGill was sent home after only five days in the hospital. His long-term rehabilitation, however, was not going to be quite as easy. Although expected to make a full recovery, McGill would be unable to work for up to seven months and physical exercise would be limited.
“I’m really physical,” said McGill. “Before this I was in great shape. I ate well, exercised a lot and felt I was going to be good to go for a long time. The doc told me the chance of survival from this condition was only 1 percent.”
A carpenter by trade, McGill, did not have a long-term disability plan or insurance to cover his time out of work. Maguire and McGill’s brother Ryan went to work on a plan to raise funds for the family. The mortgage and daily bills would need to be paid. The future cost of his medical care remained unknown.
The two Ryans set up a fundraising page and began organizing an event to take place in town. A Facebook page and bank account were added.
The community responded, donating the use of a club, much needed funds, food, entertainment, gifts and raffle items.
The fundraiser, featuring a pasta dinner and live music by the Jungle Dogs will be held on Saturday, April 6 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Mettatuxet Yacht Club, 36 South River Drive, Narragansett. Tickets are $20 per person. Tickets can be purchased and online and donations made at www.justinmcgill.eventbrite.com . Donations can also be made directly to Justin McGill, account 95167850, via any local Washington Trust branch.