Journalist Miles O'Brien loses arm to accident

February 26, 2014

Surgeons amputated the left arm of PBS science correspondent and pilot Miles O’Brien when complications arose during surgery for an injury to the arm, O’Brien reported in a Feb. 25 blog.

On Feb. 12, at the end of a reporting trip to Japan and the Philippines, O’Brien was stacking cases "brimming with TV gear" when one of the cases toppled, landing on his left forearm, he wrote.

"Ouch! It hurt, but I wasn’t all '911' about it. It was painful and swollen but I figured it would be okay without any medical intervention. Maybe a little bit of denial? The next day, February 13, things seemed status quo. It was sore and swollen but seemingly no worse. Then, that night, things got worse," he told blog readers.

The next morning O’Brien saw a doctor, who said O’Brien might be suffering from acute compartment syndrome, a condition that can block blood flow, "causing a whole host of serious, life-threatening consequences,"  O’Brien said.

The condition continued to worsen. During emergency surgery, a fasciotomy procedure, O’Brien’s blood pressure dropped, and "the doctor made a real-time call and amputated my arm just above the elbow," he wrote.

"He later told me it all boiled down to a choice…between a life and a limb," O’Brien said.

O’Brien, of Washington, D.C., is the science correspondent for the PBS Newshour, a regular correspondent for the PBS series Frontline, and is chief correspondent for the National Science Foundation’s Science Nation series. For many years he worked as the science and space correspondent for CNN.

In the June 2009 AOPA Pilot article, "Over Africa," O’Brien reported on the work of the Kenya Wildlife Service to train pilots in their campaign against game poachers. His wife Sandy filmed portions of a weeklong clinic taught by noted flight instructors Patty Wagstaff and John and Martha King.

A Detroit, Mich., native, O’Brien is a "third-generation pilot" who has an instrument rating and  owns a Cirrus SR22 single-engine airplane, according to his biography. It notes that "he is often called upon to explain the world of aviation to a mass audience and has reported extensively on civil aviation issues and crash investigations."

Despite the challenges O’Brien now faces during and beyond his recovery, he urged readers of his blog not to worry about him.

"Life is all about playing the hand that is dealt you. Actually, I would love somebody to deal me another hand right about now–in more ways than one," he wrote.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.