Marine veteran Al Kirby, of Shirley, helped launch a blood drive Monday with the same Stony Brook University Hospital staffers who saved his life last Christmas over the course of a nearly 10-hour surgery using 27 units of blood products. Credit: James Carbone

A Marine veteran from Shirley helped kick off a blood drive Monday with the same Stony Brook Hospital staffers that saved his life last Christmas.

Hospital doctors at a news conference said Al Kirby, 52, survived a “test of what is humanly possible” after going into the emergency room with a ruptured aorta on Christmas Day 2018. During a nine-hour, 52-minute surgery, doctors used 27 units of blood, said Dr. Henry Tannous, co-director of the Stony Brook University Heart Institute and chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

Kirby left the hospital after 10 days. His wife, Dawn, and other family members joined the Stony Brook medicine team Monday in donating blood in Kirby’s name.

“This crucial act of kindness will allow more families like the Kirbys to spend more holidays together,” Tannous said, describing the blood bank as a “powerful ally” for his team.

In a release, a Stony Brook representative said Kirby was rushed to the hospital’s emergency department last Christmas after experiencing a stabbing pain in his chest, rapidly beating heart and a burning sensation in his throat while carrying presents from his in-laws’ house to the car.

Doctors ruled out a coronary blockage but found what the release termed a “severe aortic dissection.”

“The inner layer of Al’s ascending aorta — the part of the aorta that exits the heart — had ruptured, and the tear extended from his heart all the way down to his right leg, a distance of about forty inches, letting blood in where it usually doesn’t go,” Tannous said. “This caused the inner and middle layers to separate, or dissect. If and when the blood bursts through the weakened outer wall of the aorta, it’s life-threatening and needs immediate repair.”

Kirby, at Monday’s news conference, said he was “not much on words.” But he found one to describe the medical team that saved his life: “angels.”

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