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Captain Phil Harris of Deadliest Catch Suffers Stroke


Last Friday, while offloading his vessel, the Cornelia Marie, in St. Paul Island, Alaska, Capt. Phil Harris was found unconcious in his state room after suffering a stroke. He was medivacked to Anchorage where he underwent a 12-hour surgery and was placed in a medically-induced coma to reduce brain swelling.

On Wednesday of this week, he was awakened and his sons Jake and Josh said “he showed some good signs of improvement, squeezing our hands and even summoning his trademark Captain’s bluntness. We are encouraged but still very cautious.”

A stroke is an interuption of the blood supply to any part of the brain. There are two types. An ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, is the most common. Captain Haris has a history of blood clots – in 2008 he suffered a pulmonary embolism when a blood clot traveled from his leg into his lungs.

A hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs in about 15% of stroke cases, occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes weak and bursts open, causing blood to leak into the brain. This type of stroke has a higher mortality rate than an ischemic stroke.

Although not disclosed, the surgery that Capt. Harris likely had was a procedure to excise the dead brain tissue that resulted from a lack of blood and oxygen to the cells.

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Long-term treatment after a stroke typically involves being placed on blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix). Other medications may be involved to treat the main cause of the stroke, such as anti-hypertensive medications for high blood pressure. The risk for a second stroke is highest during the first few weeks or months following the first.

Rehabilitation therapy may also be involved for lingering effects. Physical therapy can help improve strength in weakened arm and leg muscles and improve range-of-motion. Occupational therapy can assist with regaining self-care abilities, such as feeding. Should speech and language be affected, speech therapy may be prescribed.

For those wishing to send Captain Harris cards, good wishes and prayers, a good friend is collecting the offerings and will deliver them at a later date. The address is PO Box 32466, Amarillo, TX 79120-2466.

For now, family friend Derek Ray will take over the role of captain on the Cornelia Marie for the remainder of the Opilio crab season. The next season of the Discovery Channel’s Emmy-Award winning documentary “Deadliest Catch” is expected to premiere in April.

[Updated February 9, 2010]
Captain Phil Harris has died at age 53. On the show's Web page, sons Jake and Josh Harris gave notice of their father's passing:

"It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to our dad -- Captain Phil Harris. Dad has always been a fighter and continued to be until the end. For us and the crew, he was someone who never backed down. We will remember and celebrate that strength. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers. -- Jake and Josh Harris"