Pavano's shoveling accident was nearly fatal

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 16, 2013 - 6:57 AM

The former Twins pitcher lacerated his spleen shoveling snow but didn't realize the injury's severity until it was almost too late.

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Right hand pitcher Carl Pavano warmed up his arm at Hammond Stadium during spring training last season.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Carl Pavano said his parting with the Twins this offseason was a mutual decision. They wanted to move in a different direction, and so did he.

After the holidays, the free-agent righthander was cranking up his workout regimen and negotiating with other teams.

Then, on Jan. 12, he had a freak accident while shoveling snow at his Vermont home. After a harrowing ordeal, Pavano knows he won't be pitching anytime soon.

"I'm just lucky to be alive," Pavano said in a phone interview this week.

Pavano, 37, said he jammed his midsection on a shovel handle and didn't realize he had lacerated his spleen until four days later. By the time he finally had surgery to remove the spleen, on Jan. 19, doctors first had to remove 6 1/2 liters of blood from his chest cavity.

He said he lost 35 pounds in three weeks. At least he can laugh about it now. At 230 pounds, he's as trim as he was as a rookie, he said, but too weak to lift his kids, ages 3 and 4.

Yankees fans still ridicule Pavano for all the injuries he had in his four-year stint in New York, but he resurrected his career with the Twins, helping lead them to the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. He still has fond memories from the Twin Cities, and who could relate to a shovel incident better than a Minnesotan?

"Exactly," he said. "In Twins Territory, they understand what I did."

On Jan. 12, a Saturday, Pavano and his wife, Alissa, had family visiting. There had been a recent dusting of snow, and that morning, the 6-5 Pavano went to shovel the path leading to the front door and slipped on some ice as he went down the steps. He fell right on the handle.

"It knocked the wind out of me," he said. "I didn't think anything of it that weekend. We were out on snowmobiles and sleds with the kids. We were building snowmen."

Two days later, Pavano went through a full workout. Then, he and Alissa drove to Westchester, N.Y., where they had planned to visit friends and look at houses.

On Jan. 16, Pavano went for another workout in Westchester. Riding to the facility, he felt a sudden wave of abdominal pain and nausea.

"My body just went into shock," he said. "I turned white. It was one of the worst feelings I've probably ever had."

Humans don't need a spleen to survive, but the organ plays a key role in immune systems, helping the body fight infections. Doctors used to remove lacerated spleens immediately, but now they routinely wait to see if the bleeding stops by itself.

Pavano said he visited three Connecticut hospitals. He didn't disclose the second one's name, but said the doctors there took a wait-and-see approach until it was nearly too late.

"I was in good shape, so my vitals were strong," Pavano said. "They didn't feel the bleeding was proficient enough where we needed to rush into surgery. I got into the hospital on a Wednesday, and I was just deteriorating every day, little by little."

By Saturday night, Pavano's blood count had dropped dangerously low, and one of his lungs collapsed, he said. Alissa called her doctor in Florida, seeking another opinion, and he urged them to find a trauma center.

"He said I was on borrowed time," Pavano said. "So we went to Hartford Hospital. That's the No. 1 trauma center in the area."

Doctors there gave Pavano a blood transfusion and performed splenic embolization, blocking the blood supply to his spleen.

"I was hours away from going into cardiac arrest and probably wouldn't even be here," Pavano said.

Doctors can perform a splenectomy with a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure, but Pavano's spleen had swollen from the size of a fist to the size of an iPad, he said. To remove it, they had to cut an incision from his sternum to his belly button.

He will have to rest and let that incision heal before he can resume workouts. He knows it will take several weeks, if not months, to regain his strength, but he's determined to pitch again, eventually.

"Right now, that's the last thing I'm worried about," he said. "It's been a crazy few weeks."

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