Real Life Grey's Anatomy: 15 Heart Wrenching Stories From Actual Surgeons

The ABC medical drama Grey’s Anatomy has been on for well over a decade and we’ve come to regard the essential characters as a part of our daily lives, even though they’re just that – characters. But as all fans know, it’s probably not the best to get attached to particular characters since show creator Shonda Rhimes has a tendency to shatter our souls in more ways than one (RIP McDreamy, McSteamy, McGeorge). Despite all our love and sorrow, we have to ask one question of the show runners: Are the cases that the writers think up actually ripped from the headlines? Meaning, are they true in real life or are there similar cases like the ones we see every Thursday night on the drama? Turns out that the writers sometimes mold story lines out of strange cases they’ve been told or read about. Here are 15 real life surgical stories that would make Meredith Grey completely jealous.

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15 The Real Life Living Skin Graft


If you’re a fan of the show, you’ve seen the doctors on Grey’s deal with this particular case. Little do fans know that real life medical professionals actually pulled this off in real life. In the episode “Things We Lost In The Fire” (Season 12), the characters are rushing around to save a group of firefighters after they were involved in an accident. The doctors used a treatment where they treated the firefighters’ wounds with something called a pedicle flap (which is a soft tissue cover) over the wounded area. In real life, this was used to treat a man who had his hand pinned to the ground by his car fender. His hand sustained severe third-degree burns and the only way to treat the patient was to use the same method that Grey’s doctors used with the soft tissue. The real life patient only took a month to heal thanks to the procedure.

14 Twin Pregnancy


In the season 12 episode “You Can Look (But You’d Better Not Touch)” the doctors make a house call to a local maximum security women’s prison in order to treat an extremely violent 16-year old girl who is pregnant. Turns out the unborn babies of the young mother is suffering from TRAP Syndrome (which is Twin Reversed Arterial Perfusion). This syndrome is where during a twin pregnancy, the blood flow between the two fetuses is reversed, which can seriously hurt one twin. While TRAP is extremely rare, it’s been known to happen sometimes in real life (thankfully, not in a women’s prison as far as I know). Doctors are sometimes able to catch this, but if left untreated, the “normal” twin can die shortly after birth. In the real case of TRAP, the normal twin died because the mother ended up going into premature labor.

13 One Rare Diagnosis and Three Spleens


The doctors over at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital were spitting confused when they came face to face with a patient who suffered from something called situs inversus (they discovered this when the patient in question attempted to eat the face of another patient. This is when the patient has three spleens, which is called abdominal situs inversus with polysplenia syndrome. This real life case happened to be on a 24-year old individual who ended up living since his case wasn’t traumatic. However, in the show, the characters were having a difficult time with the case in surgery, mostly because they were allowing their personal lives get in the middle of everything (as usual). While of course everything was over dramatized by five hundred million, young interns and nurses in real life they actually learned about the odd diagnosis with the help of the medical drama.

12 Chandra Wilson's Daughter's Real Life Illness


Chandra Wilson, otherwise known as the beloved Dr. Miranda Bailey on the medical drama, actually was faced with her own personal drama when her very own daughter, Sarina McFarlane, became ill as a teenager. Sarina suddenly started experiencing extreme nausea, crippling abdominal pain, and heavy vomiting and not a single doctor could accurately diagnose her for ten months. “It presented itself like a real bad case of food poisoning,” Wilson explained to Good Morning America. “It didn’t go away for four or five days so because of that we went to the ER.” After several months of Sarina experiencing crippling pain, doctors finally diagnosed her with cyclic vomiting syndrome, which is a neurological disorder that’s “characterized by a series of prolonged attacks of severe nausea and vomiting with no apparent cause.” Wilson kept on doctors for months until they were able to figure out the medical mystery and help Sarina.

11 The 71-pound Tumor


In the salad days of Grey’s, the interns were presented with a massive tumor on a very frightened over weight woman who had let the tumor continue to grow because she was too scared to go to the hospital. Some of the doctors judged the patient for letting it get that bad (which, of course, led to the death of the patient on the OR table), but this actually happened in real life when a 556-pound man named Scot Jacobson and his 71-pound tumor (he lovingly dubbed “Wilson” after the Tom Hanks film Cast Away) came into an Oregon hospital. Jacobson has to endure two very risky surgeries (one of which is gastric bypass in order to get his weight down enough for doctors to remove Wilson). Doctors have Jacobson on a strict diet and his own community helped raise the money needed for the man to have both surgeries.

10 Fish Up The Wrong Stream


This is the Grey’s Anatomy episode that made every man on the face of the planet cringe. And want to make them cringe worse? This “fish up the wrong stream” thing actually can happen in real life if you're not paying attention. During the third season of the drama, the doctors of Seattle Grace were baffled after the chairman of the hospital was brought into the hospital after returning from the Amazon with a candiru fish up his nether region. The candiru fish is known to swim up a stream of urine in order to lodge itself in the urethra. Doctors and papers in the past have actually been investigated (with claims that patients were treated with this) but no recent cases have been noted as of late. While candiru fish are now feared thanks to shows like Grey’s and documentaries on Animal Planet and BBC, there are plenty of other animals in the Amazon that you should be fearing a whole lot more.

9 Teen Lives Without a Heart for 118 Days


In the tenth season of Grey’s, the doctors were faced with the challenge of keeping a young woman, whose heart was removed, alive long enough to find her a new heart over the holidays. The patient was kept alive by a machine that pumps her blood through her body for her. This happened in real life to a young 14-year old girl named D’Zhana Simmons when the heart that was placed in her body failed to function after a heart transplant. The same technique was used on Simmons as the young patient in Grey’s where she was kept alive by two artificial pumps that kept her blood flowing throughout her body for four months. Simmons ended up receiving a heart 118 days after her own heart was removed from her body, and this time her new heart worked.

8 Regaining Sight Via a Tooth


This HAS to be the strangest medical case I’ve ever heard of – it’s even too strange for Grey’s to even use (I’m sure they will in the future, however. It’s way too fascinating to ignore). A man named Martin Jones was left blind for over a decade after a tub of aluminum exploded in his face and took his eyesight. Doctors though they were able to regain Jones’ eyesight by way of… a tooth? The doctors implanted part of his very own tooth into one of his eyes and Jones was suddenly able to see the world again. In the procedure, the patient’s tooth is removed and reshaped and then implanted under the eyelid where the tooth actually becomes covered in tissue. What was so extremely sweet about this particular story is that Jones was able to see his wife Gill, who he had married after the accident, for the first time after the successful surgery.

7 Twins Saved After Mother Chooses Between Them


You never want to have to go through this as a parent: when you’re suddenly faced with the heinous decision that makes you choose between which one of your children will live and which will have to perish. This was the case for Shannon and Mike Gimbel, who were told by doctors that the twin girls the couple were expecting were deathly sick, and one needed to be sacrificed in order to save the other. The twins were suffering from TTTS (Twin-to-Twin Syndrome), which is a condition where the twins are connected by blood vessels and one twin is literally draining the life out of the other. Doctors told the couple to terminate the weaker baby in order to save the stronger one and both were struggling morally with what to do. Another doctor ended up giving them a second opinion: cauterize the blood vessels while the babies were still in the womb that were connecting and killing the twins. Thanks to the surgery, both babies ended up surviving.

6 Boy Recovers From Orthopedic Decapitation


During one of the latter seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, a man is forced to choose between life and death after he was involved in a car accident that separated his skull from his vertebrae. In the show, the patient decided to terminate his own life in order to spare his wife the heartache of years and years of physical therapy only to never be the same again. This particular case turned out much happier, however. A young boy by the name of Jordan Taylor came into the hospital with his own skull separated from his vertebrae after a violent car accident. Doctors were able to reconnect Jordan’s head to his neck via a metal plate and titanium rods. He only took THREE MONTHS to heal properly and get back to life as normal. That patient from Grey’s would have totally made it if he had the will to actually live. Lazy!

5 Spider Bite Helps Man Walk Again


This one is just so wrong that it’s actually right… but it’s still so creepy on every single level possible. David Blancarte was nearly killed in the motorcycle accident that paralyzed him for 21 years. While his life was spared, he was condemned to a wheelchair for over two decades. While in the wheelchair, Blancarte was bitten by a deadly brown recluse spider that sent him to the hospital. During physical therapy, a nurse actually noticed that Blancarte had a spasm in one of his non-working legs and decided to run some tests. Miraculously, five days later, Blancarte was actually walking again, thanks to that stupid spider. Though his exuberance was short lived: a little while after he started walking again, Blancarte was arrested on an outstanding warrant for a past domestic abuse case. Now THAT is very Grey’s Anatomy worthy.

4 Patient Gets Throat Transplant


During the seventh season of Grey’s, a patient becomes one of the first ever recipient of a throat transplant. The patient receives a brand new throat grown in the lab by the doctors. This story was actually ripped from the headlines and snatched up by Rhimes and the Grey’s Anatomy writers. The real case was of a 14-year old New Jersey girl named Brianna Ranzino who was the inspiration for the Grey’s storyline after doctors were in a race against the clock as they attempted to figure out how to successfully give her a throat transplant. Ranzino had undergone three major surgeries to remove a tumor that was cutting off the young girl’s airway. The doctors ended up growing a brand new windpipe in her own abdomen by using stem cells and successfully were able to place the new windpipe into place, just like the show did.

3 Man Falls 47-Stories And Lives


In the early seasons of Grey’s, a desperate window washer attempts to take his own life by leaping from a high-rise building and almost ends up crushing George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) to death in his fall. Even though he leaped from over 30 stories, he ended up living (at least until surgery ended up killing him) and was still coherent after the fall itself. In real life, a man named Alcides Moreno fell 47 stories in New York City when the window-washing platform he was on collapsed. While the accident killed his brother who was on the platform with him, Moreno ended up living after doctors operated on him in the emergency room itself (he was too fragile to move to the OR). After being in a coma for weeks, he started showing signs of consciousness on Christmas Day. One month later, he was discharged from the hospital and was able to walk again one year later.

2 New Face After Being Shot

ABC News

Any Grey’s fan will warn you before you attempt to take on the show: don’t get attached to any character because writers are fond of killing off everyone, especially by way of gun shots. Patients often come in with gun shot wounds and either ending up walking out of the hospital, or six feed under the ground. In a real life horror story, a woman by the name of Connie Culp was shot in the face by her husband Thomas back in 2004 before he ended up taking his own life. Culp actually became the first ever successful face transplant in the United States after her husband left her clinging to life. Culp had 30 operations, one of which included doctors removing her own ribs to make her new cheekbones. After doctors where able to replace what they could using Culp’s own bones, they replaced what was left with the face of a woman who had recently died.

1 Vegetative Man Comes Back To Life After Surgery

Medical News Today

There had been plenty of “HE’S AWAKE!” story lines in Grey’s when patients who have been in comas for years actually wake up to a brand new world. In real life, a severely brain injured person who was unable to communicate (or even move) for six years, miraculously started showing signs of life after his skull was implanted with electrodes in order to stimulate the un-damaged parts of his brain. This sort of treatment has been used in the past to treat patients who suffer from Parkinson’s disease and Tourrett’s syndrome. After the surgery, the patient is now actually able to feed himself, brush his own hair and speak with people he's able to recognize. While he’ll never be officially the same, the treatment was a miracle to his close family members and doctors.

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