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World - Africa

Lone sailor uses e-mail instructions to operate on himself

Yazykov received help from a Russian trawler  
November 19, 1998
Web posted at: 6:24 p.m. EST (2324 GMT)

In this story:

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNN) -- Viktor Yazykov, relaxing in port and preparing his boat for another leg of a solo yacht race around the world, may already have set a new record -- for the longest-distance house call.

Last week, alone aboard his yacht 1,000 miles from the South Africa coast, Yazykov was suffering from a life-threatening infection. But a doctor in Boston sent him instructions via e-mail to perform an operation on himself that possibly saved his life.

Yazykov knew something had to be done about a serious abscess on his elbow. He made e-mail contact with the race doctor, Daniel Carlin, who responded with a cybermessage outlining a 14-point medical procedure.

Following the instructions, the seaman sliced an incision into his elbow and inserted a piece of gauze into the wound to drain it.

"I couldn't stop the bleeding. At this point I was pretty tired. I hadn't eaten for a long time, so I was losing my power and my blood, and I felt that I was losing my life," said Yazykov, 50, aboard his yacht in Cape Town harbor.

"I have been a few times in my life in pretty dangerous situations, but this time I think it was the worst," said the former Russian special forces commando.


Yazykov, taking part in the Around Alone yacht race, was still nearly 950 miles (1,500 km) short of Cape Town -- the first staging point in the event -- on November 10 when the abscess on his right elbow threatened to turn gangrenous.

With his small emergency generator out of action and solar panels the only source of power and light, Yazykov clamped a lamp to his forehead, crouched below deck aboard his Winds of Change yacht and sliced into his elbow with a scalpel.

He made a one-inch (2.5 cm) incision and inserted a drain to remove the pus, but blood spurted all over the cabin and the mirror he was using to see what he was doing.

"I couldn't understand what was going wrong," he said. "I was covered in blood. I thought that I am going to die."

The gray-haired, muscular sailor said he tried applying a tourniquet and holding his arm above his head, but nothing worked and he started to lose sensation in the limb.

Dr. Carlin
Carlin e-mailed surgery instructions to Yazykov  

Help from Russian trawler

Via e-mail, the doctor told him to release the tourniquet and explained that the aspirin he had been taking to control the pain had thinned his blood and aggravated the bleeding.

He reassured Yazykov the bleeding was not life-threatening and would eventually stop. But in a panic, Yazykov downed half a bottle of red wine in the belief it would help replenish his red blood cells.

He passed out due to a combination of the wine, loss of blood and fatigue, leaving Carlin waiting anxiously for news for several hours.

When Yazykov came to, he found the bleeding had stopped, although he still had no feeling in his damaged arm. On his arrival in Cape Town several days later, he received treatment aboard a Russian trawler in port. His arm is slowly recovering.

Despite his obstacles, Yazykov managed to come fifth out of nine racers in his yacht's class into Cape Town, and is preparing his boat for the next leg of the journey to Auckland, New Zealand, which starts December 5.

"All's well that ends well. I hope my right leg, er, my arm, will recover," he said.

CNN Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.

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