Thrive by IU Health

June 01, 2021

‘Lottery winner’ seeks to benefit IU Health

IU Health Methodist Hospital

‘Lottery winner’ seeks to benefit IU Health

Curtis Underhill often told people he would hit the lottery one day. Now he feels like he has: He beat outsized odds to land a prize of incredible value. In his case, the prize was his life.

This story begins last May, when Curtis was enjoying Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Socializing and playing cornhole with friends and clients, he felt a sharp stabbing in his chest.

“I walked away to get a breath of air, and I had to go down to one knee,” the 30-year-old sales rep said almost a year later. “Thirty seconds later I was fighting for my life.”

What Curtis had felt was his aorta ripping open, the result of a ruptured aneurysm. Few people survive such an event. Most never even make it to a hospital.

But Curtis had location on his side. Friends scrambled to get help at the infield’s IU Health Emergency Medical Center. A doctor there recognized what was happening and rushed Curtis to IU Health Methodist Hospital, where Lawrence Lee, MD, FACS, performed emergency surgery.

“I almost didn’t go to the track that day,” said Curtis, who had considered spending the day with his wife, Stephanie, and their daughter, Kennedy. “Dr. Lee told me, ‘If you had stayed home that day, you more than likely would have died.’”

The days after the surgery were a struggle for Curtis, as the once-active native Hoosier labored to complete even one lap around the hospital floor. “When I saw the physical therapy team coming into my room, there were times when I tried to act like I was asleep,” he said. Slowly, though, he regained strength, focusing on Stephanie and Kennedy and willing his body to accept the artificial valve in his chest. Soon, Curtis had another reason to rally: After he got home from the hospital, Stephanie informed him that she was pregnant. Little Carter Underhill was born in January.

Carter Underhill in the hospital

To say Curtis feels grateful to be alive would be an understatement. Now he’s organizing a golf tournament with IU Health Foundation to raise funds for IU School of Medicine residents. He and Stephanie will also attend Rev, the Foundation’s annual event at the Speedway, rescheduled for August 1.

“I want to give back to the hospital that saved my life,” Underhill said.

Curtis feels confident he can rally the 72 or more golfers necessary to reach his fundraising goal. After all, when you’ve already won a lottery for your life, you tend to like your odds.

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