ELLERBE — Retired Richmond County Sheriff’s deputy Dan McInnis continues to beat the odds, say his family and doctors — but it’s an uphill battle since he came home from his most recent surgery at Charlotte’s Carolinas Medical Center, and McInnis said he is thankful to the community for coming together to lend a helping hand.
Saturday at 9 a.m., ten co-ed softball teams will battle it out in an all-day tournament at East Rockingham Park with all proceeds going directly to the McInnis family. The tournament is free and open to the public, said McInnis’ sister-in-law Lynn Smith Honeycutt.
“We have 10 teams registered to play,” Honeycutt said. “It’s a double-elimination softball tournament, and there is no charge to come watch. We’ll have concessions, T-shirts, raffle tickets, half-and-half tickets, and a bounce house and face painting for children. We have a Pelican cooler that will be raffled off, and several local businesses have donated items for the raffle. Billy Kaurin put it all together, and we are thankful.”
McInnis’ health began a long and steady decline eighteen years ago when what for many people is a minor surgical procedure went awry.
“In October of ‘98, I was still farming,” McInnis recalled. “I woke up three mornings in a row with a kidney stone and went to the ER three days in a row. They said they’d have to go in and get it, but when it happened, they ripped my ureter from my other kidney, and we didn’t know. But I started having lung trouble because I was drowning in urine.”
He said that with his left kidney completely detached from his bladder, urine was emptying into his abdomen.
“So then I got septic because of that,” he explained. “I had a fever of 106. Between October 15 that year and May of 2001, I had 23 surgeries and spent over 180 days in the hospital. I ended up losing my left kidney. And then, I threw a clot and had an aneurysm in my left femoral artery. So they put a stint in and it was successful until 2012.”
Despite his medical team telling him he would never work again, McInnis, who started working for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in 2004, kept working. He was also a regular at the gym, he said, where he worked out seven days a week.
“Eight years later I got into a foot chase with a guy we were arresting,” he said. “My left leg went numb and my toes started hurting really bad. I noticed I was having a lot of pain, so the doctors found out that the stint in my artery was partially occluded, blocked off. So they did an angio balloon to stretch it out.”
But the following day, McInnis had a stroke.
“What they think happened was either a piece of plaque or a clot broke loose from the angio balloon, and because I have a hole in my heart, it went through my heart and straight to my brain.”
Six weeks later, McInnis went back to work and returned to working out daily.
“I was back in the gym and had the best gym day ever,” he said. “I bench-pressed 365 pounds and came home from the gym, and me and Nicki (his wife) were watching “American Idol” and I sat down in the chair and had another stroke. I couldn’t move my left side. Nicki noticed me wobbling in the hall and at first she thought I was playing, but once I sat down she knew something was wrong.”
While in the hospital for the second stroke, McInnis learned he had stage 3 kidney disease, and his heart was only functioning at 23 percent.
“While I’m in the hospital for all of this, I catch CDIF, a superbug,” he said. “You go to the bathroom 25 or 30 times a day, and it’s pure water. It’s terrible. I’ve had it seven times since. It was caused by the overuse of antibiotics, and is antibiotic resistant.”
His wife said that while recovering from a bout of CDIF is possible, the bacteria remains in the body and it is easy to have recurrences.
“I’ve had it 7 times and she’s never caught it,” McInnis said. “During the testing for CDIF, they also discovered I had Crohn’s disease.”
It seemed that each condition he was treated for led to new discoveries of other ailments, and McInnis couldn’t catch a break.
“They made me a new ureter from intestines,” he said. “But my intestine started leaking internally, and they had to go and take out more intestines and leave me open. They had to do wet and dry packing every day. Then, I was on a liquid diet for 6 weeks.”
He said that his doctor gave him two choices.
“He told me, ‘You can either retire and maybe see your son grow up and have kids, or keep working and your wife’s going to have a new husband and your kid’s not going to have a daddy,” he recalled.
While he took the advice to heart, he still could not bring himself to stop working entirely.
“I still went back to work part time, and had six more mini-strokes,” he said. “Finally I decided I had to retire. My heart function has gone from 23 percent to 40 percent since retiring, so that’s good news. And I’m controlling my blood pressure.”
McInnis remembers one time in particular when he and his wife were in a hospital room, and a nurse came in.
“She said, ‘Your family is out waiting in the family room,” he said. “And Nicki said, ‘No, they can’t be.’ We knew where everybody was, and we weren’t expecting them. But the nurse said, ‘Well, they’re here and they said they’re your family.”
That family was Sheriff James E. Clemmons and 14 deputies.
“The sheriff came, stayed until two o’clock in the morning, and told those guys I had worked with in narcotics, ‘Anything he needs, get it done.’ And to this day, these guys have been great. It’s unreal,” McInnis said.
This summer, McInnis’ health took another turn for the worse.
“On July 18, I went to hospital again with CDIF,” he said. “I was dehydrated and my potassium was really low. My fourth night, I got a really bad headache.”
It was the night before the hospital planned to send him home, he said.
“That night, Nicki knew something wasn’t right. She’d been spending nights with me, and when she wasn’t there, there was always someone,” he explained. “But I think she was meant to be there that night, and she just said, ‘I feel like I need to stay.’ Nicki asked them to give me a CAT scan because she knew this kind of headache was unusual for me. So they did it and found out I had a subdural hematoma with a midline shift.”
He had a head bleed, and the pressure from it had caused his brain to shift four centimeters to the left.
“They transferred me to Charlotte in critical care ICU at CMC,” he said. “They took me off the blood thinners immediately, and gave me platelets to try to slow the bleed down. They wanted to wait as long as they could to do the brain surgery. The last CT scan, though, they said they had to do it right then.”
He said the day following his brain surgery, he felt great and a nurse was helping him use a walker to keep him moving — but as evening neared, he noticed pressure behind his eye.
“I started getting a black eye,” he said. “I said, ‘It’s bleeding again.’ And the nurse said, ‘I don’t think so.’ But I told her I could feel it swelling up, and I know my own body. So it kept swelling and swelling until it split my eyelid open.”
Two seizures followed, and a second brain surgery had to be performed less than 48 hours after the first. This time, McInnis spent 16 days in the hospital and enjoyed 13 days back home before another medical incident occurred.
“I was doing physical therapy when I got home, and told them, ‘I think I have a blood clot in my leg,” he said. “It was hurting and burning, so they sent me to have a Doppler study done, and they missed it, because the small ones are easy to miss.”
McInnis went home, but six days later, he found himself short of breath.
“I woke up and I couldn’t get my breath, and I was hurting in my side,” he recalled. “Nicki wanted to go to ER, and I said ‘Nah, I’ll wait on my home health nurse.’
McInnis ended up in the emergency room again, undergoing a chest x-ray that revealed a broken rib from a recent fall.
The hospital was going to send him home again — but a nurse, Tim Lancaster, told the doctors he knew McInnis well, and that a “tough guy like him would not come to the hospital over a rib.”
The nurse persuaded the doctor to order a D-dimer test to rule out a clot. The results revealed not one, but several clots in McInnis’ legs and lungs.
“After hearing all that, I said to the doctor, ‘What can we do?’ And he said, ‘I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t know. You’re between a rock and a hard place.’ Because I couldn’t go back on blood thinners, but here were all these clots.”
McInnis said he returned to CMC after the doctor told him to choose where he wanted to go.
“It was then that I finally just said, ‘You know what, God? I’m going to give it to you and I’m not going to worry about it anymore,” McInnis said. “And once I did that, I never worried about it since. It’s hard to do, but it works. I know that God is the only reason I’m still here. He gets all of the credit.”
Despite the numerous health problems and financial concerns that accompany them, McInnis said he remains in good spirits at all times.
“I don’t feel sorry for myself at all,” he said. “I feel blessed. The good Lord is the reason I’m still here. People have done so many nice things for me and Nicki. The only way a community could come together like it has is God.”
He said Richmond County is unlike anyplace else, full of people who care for one another and look out for people facing hard times.
“Something else that happened that’s really amazing,” he said. “When I woke up off the ventilator there was a bouquet of flowers there, and I asked who it was from and Nicki said, ‘You won’t believe it.’ It was the sister of the first guy I had ever arrested in drug enforcement and she said, ‘Thank you for the way you treated my brother, and for teaching him the respect he needed.”
McInnis added that he’s been out in public several times and been greeted by people he has arrested in the past, and all of them said they are praying for him.
“I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of,” he said. “That I can go to Walmart and have someone come up to me like that, and they’re praying for me and my family. I’ve always tried to treat people good. If you treat people right they don’t forget it, and if you don’t treat them right they don’t forget it.”
The softball tournament begins at 9 a.m. at East Rockingham Park and admission is free. All proceeds from sales of concessions will benefit Dan McInnis and his family.
To volunteer as an umpire during the tournament, contact Billy Kaurin at 910-334-7532.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.