A bullet-proof dad-of-three is still alive and kicking despite having died six times. Ken Tarling, 54, from Newport, South Wales, has beaten the odds to come back from the dead after being told by doctors on multiple occasions he would not make it. In 2019 Mr Tarling, a former security manager and factory worker, was struck down by AAA, which causes life-threatening swelling in the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and tummy.
After he arrived at Royal Gwent Hospital, with what he thought was kidney stones, Mr Tarling was told blood was pouring into his body from internal bleeding and he had a 95 percent chance of dying.
Incredibly he survived the procedure despite needing 36 litres of blood and surgeons revealing his heart stopped four times on the operating table. The fourth time his heart was manually restarted by a doctor squeezing it with his hands.
Suspected complications from the mammoth operation saw Mr Tarling back in hospital just a week later when he suffered a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop gushing.
The bleed was an indicator of his body struggling to repair itself and despite another 14 litres of blood medics put him on a life-support machine and told his family his organs were shutting down.
Mr Tarling’s ex-wife Gill raced to his side along with his daughter Naomi and as Gill spoke to her former husband in his coma it was hearing her voice that he says brought him back once more, stunning doctors once again.
Finally, during the Covid pandemic in 2020 Mr Tarling suffered a ruptured hernia that left surgeons once again giving him a life-and-death diagnosis. Incredibly his life was saved again because his organs had healed and shifted after his AAA, allowing doctors to make a repair.
Despite dodging the Grim Reaper on numerous occasions, Mr Tarling, who also beaten cancer twice and is living with a “dead” left kidney, said he doesn’t like to moan.
Recalling his first brush with death on June 19, 2019, he told the Express: “I phoned the ambulance, but it didn’t turn up and I had to wait three hours for a taxi, when I was in the hospital, they said you’ve got kidney stones and must have passed them which is why you are ill.
“I said, ‘I don’t know much about kidney stones, but I think I would have known if I passed them’. Next thing I coughed up blood over the nurse and I collapsed.
“I remember a surgeon leaning over me and saying they apologised because I had been misdiagnosed. He told me I hadn’t got kidney stones, I had a triple A aneurysm.
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“He told me my body was filling with blood from internal bleeding and he asked me for permission to operate, I remember him saying, ‘I have to ask you this, but you’ve 95 percent chance of dying, are you ok with us to go ahead?’
“At the time I think I said, ‘No, don’t worry about it, I don’t think I’ll bother’ trying to joke with him, but I don’t think he had a sense of humour.
“Next thing I remember I woke up in the intensive care unit and they explained to me that they didn’t expect me to survive. They had called my ex-wife and daughter and told them they didn’t expect me to make it and to prepare themselves. But it didn’t work out like that.
“The surgeon came over and told me I had died four times on the operating table, as in my heart stopped four times, and at one time he had to manually restart it by squeezing it with his hands.
“Afterwards a few people at work said I didn’t die but the hospital told me I did, my heart stopped so I was dead. A lot of people don’t get over being dead, but I did.”
By July Mr Tarling was out of hospital and intent on putting his life back together after the trials of such a near-death experience. But his journey was not over yet.
He said: “I had a nose bleed, which was unusual because I’d never had a nose bleed in my life, but this one was like a tap, there was blood pouring everywhere.
“When the paramedics came out, they said I should go to hospital just in case. When I was in A&E they wanted to lie me down but I could feel fluid on my chest and I knew there was going to be a problem.
“When they forced me down it felt like an electric shock and everything wouldn’t work. I could still see but I couldn’t even move my eyeballs, but I couldn’t move anything.
“They got the defibrillator, I was conscious, but I couldn’t feel or move anything, I heard them call my time of death, I was told later they did call it but my heart starting beating again.
“I was screaming inside my head, ‘I’m not dead’ then I blacked out and went into a coma.
“They put me on a life support machine and called my ex-wife Gill and told her they were going to turn the machine off. Gill and my daughter were talking to me, and I remember a nurse saying not to bother because it ‘doesn’t work’ and I remember inside my head screaming ‘it does work’.
“I was in the coma and I remember being in a black void, I couldn’t see anything or feel anything but I knew it was a huge void even though you’ve got no real senses. I’m not saying there’s no heaven or hell, but I believe there’s a plateau in between there I think.
“You’re conscious but you know you have no physical form but then to hear a voice in the darkness screaming at you to ‘wake up’ that was what did it for me. I know it sounds soppy, but I think Gill touched my soul.
“I tried to focus on the sound of her voice and 45 minutes before they turned the machine off I woke up because of hearing her voice.”
At this point Ken had died five times, and he said there were things afterwards that felt quite strange once he was back in the land of the living.
He said: “The first time I came out of hospital from the triple A everything was incredible, colours, everything was great, even Newport seemed nice to be living in at the time.
“But when I came out of the coma it felt different, I felt in a dark place. I went to a group where other people who had been in comas talked about their experiences, I’m glad I went because you had other people telling the same story that you had, so you weren’t alone.
“Apparently I was suffering from survivors’ guilt and for a long time I was quite disorientated.”
Ken’s former wife Gill, who works as a Reiki practitioner, said she knew Ken wasn’t ready to die when he was in a coma.
She said: “He’s got more lives than a cat, he’s the man that can’t die. It was a shock when they said they were going to turn the machine off when he was in a coma, but you can’t really argue with them.
“But I kept talking to him and I saw a little tear come down from his eye. I had just bought a new static caravan and said to him, ‘if you come out of this, I’ll take you to the caravan’ and I saw his little finger move.”
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Remarkably, Ken went back to work within seven weeks of his coma at a local industrial plant, but 18 months later another health scare struck.
He said: “I was a big collector of DVDs, and I was taking some into town to sell them off, a big carrier bag full, and I felt something go in my stomach.
“I’d obviously had a hernia, you tell because it looked like I had a small child strapped to the front of me and I had to carry that around for about 14 months.
“This was during covid, my ex wife rang because she has a sixth sense about these things and asked me if I was alright. She took me to hospital.
“The doctor came round and said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, but your hernia has ruptured, there’s two scenarios to this, you’ll either need a colostomy back for the rest of your life or you are going to die’.
“I thought, ‘neither of these options really work for me’, and I actually thought about it for a while. Obviously because of covid we couldn’t have anyone in the hospital, so I phoned my children and left messages and I phoned Gill to tell her to tell the kids I loved them and they could have my DVDs.”
After his most recent life-and-death operation Ken said he woke up once again to discover he was still breathing.
He said: “The surgeon come round and told me, ‘you must be one in a million’, he said ‘besides the fact you’re not dead, you don’t need a colostomy bag either’.
“He explained to me because I had the triple A aneurysm my organs had been healing inside but they’d shifted which helped them make the hernia repair.
“Also, I don’t have a belly button because when I was 21 I had an infection, and a brilliant surgeon by the name of Kenneth Shute, he moved the belly button and that’s why I survived.
“Ironically, I found out it was Dr Shute who campaigned years ago for the hospital to operate on people who had an aneurysm, because in the past they often didn’t operate because the chances of survival were so low, it could have been a waste of blood.”
Despite dying six times, and losing a thumb and having severe damage to his left hand, Mr Tarling has remarkably also found time to write an art book containing fabulous drawings of from the Doctor Who universe. The book entitled Who: A History in Art is the second in a series and is available from Candy Jar Books. A percentage of profits from sales of the book will go to a cancer charity.
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