Skydiver Requires Innovative, Life-Saving Heart Surgery After Accident

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SACRAMENTO --

It was supposed to be a graceful skimming of the Lake of the Pines in front of a Fourth of July crowd, but instead something else happened.

"I misjudged how fast I was still going across the water, and in that misjudgment, I released my parachute really close to the water... but because of the speed I was still carrying, I impacted the water -- chest first," said skydiver Iwan van der Schoor from his hospital bed.

That chest-first impact broke five of van der Schoor's  ribs and partially ruptured his aorta.

It forced the immediate need for the kind of surgery that brought the innovative aerialist together with innovative medical technology.

"It's got some wires on the outside stents that hold it into position.  It's delivered on a catheter that has it all constrained inside  a little sheath ... and the way that we remove that sheath is we pull a string. That string is connected to  the end that's outside the body," said thoracic surgeon Dr. David Dawson.

"They literally made an incision about like this ... in my groin area and another small one here on my side to drain the blood," said van der Schoor, a veteran skydiver with more than 3,900 jumps to his credit.

It's the kind of procedure that wasn't available just 15 years ago -- and the kind that had to be done so fast, based on the severity of the injury, that it couldn't wait for the Santa Clara man to be life-flighted closer to home.

"It was a little scary that they were like 'No we can't take you to Stanford because that's too far ... you need to be operated now,' "said van der Schoor.

'Now' meant tapping into the expertise available at UC Davis, which also meant that van der Schoor's thoracic endovascular aortic repair would be completed by a former parachutist from the U.S. Air Force.

"Yeah ... they did top notch work," said van der Schoor.

It's work that will allow van der Schoor to return to his top-level aerial antics in about six weeks.

Now not only is his aorta fixed, but so is his sense of humor.

Just ask him how he's feeling these days.

"Uh ... like half a million bucks," he laughed.