After Tough Battle, Sunapee Coach Looking Up
Sunapee — It was quite a change of scenery.
On Feb. 14, 2012, Ed Tenney was on the sidelines as coach of the Sunapee boys basketball team for a game against Moultonbrough. One day later, Tenney was in the critical care unit at Beth Israel-Deaconess Hospital in Boston fighting for his life.
More than a year later, no one has come up with a definitive answer as to what happened in that 24-hour period. “I kept begging someone to do something for the pain,” is all Tenney, 52, knows.
While this story has a happy ending, it eventually took 19 units of blood, 29 days in two hospitals and three months recuperating at home to reach that conclusion. In many ways, Tenney is a new man.
“I no longer have any of my own blood in me,” he said.
Tenney thought he was at first dealing with the flu. Later, it was believed he was suffering with kidney stones. It was neither.
In turned out Tenney was bleeding internally from a leaking kidney. Why? Nobody seems to know.
On that fateful Feb. 15, Tenney, a New Hampshire Circuit Court judge, was headed for work in Concord.
“I had some pain in my lower back, and felt like the flu was coming on,” he recalled.
Not one to let a minor seasonal ailment get in his way, Tenney, who by his own estimation had not missed a day of work in the past 10 years, soldiered on. That was until he walked into his office. Deputy Clerk Melanie Oliver took one look at Tenney and told him that he needed to go home.
“He just looked pale and really sick,” Oliver said. “He wanted to work for a while, but I told him there was someone here to take his cases.”
“She’s probably the first one to save my life,” Tenney said.
So Tenney left the office, got in his car and headed up Interstate 89 to his home in Sunapee.
He never made it.
He got as far as Exit 9 in Warner, where he stopped and called his wife, Holly, at her job in a Newport attorney’s office, and told her that he was sick and didn’t feel he could drive anymore.
In fact, the pain was so bad that Tenney just went into the back seat of the car to lay down to see if he could find some relief.
“I’m so tall that I had to open one of the doors to stick my feet out,” Tenney said.
Tenney would later wonder what would have happened if he had not been able to reach his wife,
When Holly arrived in Warner, she decided that it would be best to get her husband home — but in his car.
“I didn’t want him throwing up in mine,” she said at the time. “You know, when I first got the call, I was kind of upset that he got me out of work and couldn’t drive himself home.”
But she realized how serious it was as she saw Ed writhing in pain in her rearview mirror. He had thrown up at the exit and the color in his face was not good.
At New London Hospital, the early diagnosis was also kidney stones. But an X-ray showed more than that: He was full of blood and continuing to bleed.
New London Hospital was not equipped to handle the situation. And, as it turned out, even though what to do next was of urgent concern, there were no other hospitals that could help.
“When you walk into an emergency room in any hospital, they have to take care of you,” Tenney said. “But that is not the case if you are referred from another hospital.”
After repeated calls to larger Vermont and New Hampshire hospitals brought no results, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston agreed to take him.
A helicopter ride got Tenney to Beth Israel, a fortunate move, since one of Beth Israel’s specialties is kidney maladies.
But the Boston doctors were also mystified as to what was causing the bleeding and how to stop it.
“I kept wondering what was the last thing I said to my children (Allison, 20, Mariah, 18 and Matt, 15). I hoped it wasn’t anything angry,” Tenney said.
Three days later, Tenney was still in critical condition, and not always conscious. All the time, he begged Holly not to leave.
“My life was in the hand of strangers,” he said. “I didn’t want her to leave.”
She stayed eight straight days.
When the pain finally eased and the bleeding stopped and the recovery began Holly was able to look back and draw on that experience. “I look at life a little different now,” she said. “There must have been a reason for us to be put through this.”
As Tenney continued to recuperate, a constant visitor was Kearsarge Athletic Director Marty Brown, who, along with Chris Matte — wife of Kieth Matte, Lebanon High boys basketball coach — would relieve Holly of the hospital vigil.
“It was a difficult time for Ed and his family,” said Brown, now living in Gainesville, Fla. “He was in a very bad state. You don’t have many chances to be there for somebody. Ed is a very special guy and it was a privilege to be there for him.”
“Chris and I became travel friends. Chris and her husband, Kieth, are very close to the Tenneys.”
Tenney would eventually be moved to Catholic Medical Center in Manchester before recuperating at home.
As for his illness, doctors were unable to say more than that it was something rare.
“I was just told it was a very strange situation,” Tenney said. “There was so much blood that they didn’t have much of a track record with such an illness.
“Sometimes the body just heals itself from within. You just have to give it time.”
Tenney was well enough to return to coaching this past winter. He led Sunapee to an 8-10 record.
But while Tenney’s ailments are a thing of the past, the experiences will never leave him. “It would have been terrible to leave at that moment,” he said. “I’m satisfied with myself. I think my life has been good. I think I’ve made an impact.”
One of the supporters during his recovery period was a co-worker who was once a nun. “She had so many people praying for me that I think God said, ‘That’s enough prayers. You can have him,’ ” Tenney said.