Tongue, Lip Piercing Proves Almost Fatal For Chicago Man

CHICAGO, Aug 31 (AFP) -

A 31-year-old Chicago machinist and dedicated fan of flamboyant basketball player Dennis Rodman known for his facial jewelry, figured it was cool to sport pins and studs -- through his navel, his eyebrow, his ears and even his tongue.

But a slow moving infection which doctors believe infiltrated his blood stream through the piercings in his mouth and brought him to the brink of death has disabused him of that notion.

"I'm a lucky man. I got another chance at life," said William Hill Friday as he recuperated at home from a stroke and emergency heart surgery triggered by the infection.

Doctors were initially puzzled by some of the symptoms displayed by Hill when he went to a Chicago hospital August 20, apparently suffering the effects of a stroke.

The father-of-three complained of chest pains, fatigue and reduced movement on one side, but he also had a fever, and a heart murmur.

Further tests revealed that he had bacterial endocarditis (or inflammation of the lining membrane of the heart) which had eaten away one of the valves in his heart, resulting in a portion breaking off and traveling to his brain where it triggered a stroke.

"He was going into heart failure," said Dr Jeffery Silver, Hill's cardiothoracic surgeon at Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center on the city's northwest side.

"If he didn't get a new valve soon he could have died. He had a week, maybe days. He was very sick."

Tests showed that the particular infection Hill was suffering from was one that typically infects the body through the mouth and when physicians learned that Hill had removed his tongue stud and lip ring just months earlier, they realized the entry point of the infection.

"Up to then we had no idea how a generally healthy person could have contracted endocarditis," said Dr Victor Forys, who initially treated Hill at Our Lady of the Resurrection.

"Most physicians have always had some apprehension about piercings around the mucus membrane areas which are body parts that have not traditionally been pierced," he explained.

Piercing navels or tongues is considerably more risky than piercing ears because those parts of the body contain more nerves and blood vessels, he said.

"He is very shocked and we are very shocked," said Forys.

Hill, who will need to take medication for life and has slurred speech as a result of the stroke, said his experience has taught him a lesson.

If his children ever think about body piercing "I'll tell them 'Be yourself,' because Daddy tried to be somebody else like his idol and look at what he got himself into," Hill said.