For a split second Karl Sangree thought he’d gotten lucky: when he landed on the ground after being thrown from his motorcycle, there was no blood and there were no bones piercing his skin. Maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad after all. And then 800 pounds of the Harley Davidson that had skidded and became airborne landed on his body and crushed his mid-section. So much for luck.
The police and an ambulance soon arrived to rush Sangree to the hospital. He had four pelvic fractures, two hip fractures, three crushed vertebrae and six broken ribs. Doctors performed a tracheotomy, attached him to a ventilator—and summoned his three children to bid him goodbye. But after three-and-a-half weeks in an induced coma, Sangree awakened in the intensive care unit. A few weeks later, after a stint in rehab, he went home. That was April of 2012.
Oddly enough, the only injury that didn’t heal was the one that was initially considered the least serious and most likely to heal itself: damage to his urethra, the tube from the bladder that drains urine from the body. When doctors removed the catheter, Sangree discovered he couldn’t go to the bathroom. They put the catheter back. “I was told by several doctors that surgery to correct this would be very difficult, if not impossible, and that I should resign myself to using a catheter for the rest of my life.”
The catheter required that Sangree wear a drainage bag, which collects urine, strapped to his leg. It was uncomfortable and intrusive and it made him miserable. He had to change it, keep it antiseptic and monitor it constantly to make sure it didn’t overflow. There was leakage, pain, discomfort. It became an unwelcome focus of his life, a factor in everything he did. Sure, he was grateful to be alive, but “it was horrible,” he said.
Then he actually did have a stroke of luck: a doctor at the community hospital where he was being treated referred him to Jay Simhan, M.D., at Einstein Medical Center. Dr. Simhan is one of the select doctors in the United States who are specially trained to do urethra reconstruction. Dr. Simhan examined Sangree, reviewed his medical records and said, simply: “I can fix that.”
“I was elated,” said Sangree, 62, of Secane, a former volunteer firefighter and owner of a software company. “I’d seen many, many doctors and I was starting to lose faith in the medical profession. He restored my faith.” Dr. Simhan was good to his word. He performed surgery in early 2015, and now Karl Sangree has his life back. “For the first time in a long time, I was able to go to the bathroom like a grown man,” he said. “I almost cried.”
Sangree is one of many patients referred to Einstein after other urologists declined to undertake the specialized urinary reconstruction, for which Dr. Simhan has been specially trained. “I am very privileged to have a referral-based practice in urinary reconstruction and offer patients highly individualized care for their urinary problems,” Simham said.
Sangree’s recovery is great news for him and his family, of course, but also the other beneficiaries of his love: abused animals. He and a partner, two fierce-looking men whose arms are landscaped with tattoos, are volunteer police officers with the Pennsylvania Humane Society, and run a shelter for abused and neglected animals in Chester County.
“I specialize in investigating animal cruelty and abuse,” Sangree said. “In my line of work we have to go into some pretty dangerous and potentially deadly situations. The work I do is my passion in life.”
Now Sangree can pursue his passion unencumbered by any issues from the accident that nearly killed him.
“I feel it’s a calling in life, to go out and give voice to those who have no voice,” he said.