From Near-Death to New Beginnings: Dentist Ryan Thibodaux's Journey of Transformation - 30A


From Near-Death to New Beginnings: Dentist Ryan Thibodaux’s Journey of Transformation

By: Martin Liptrot | Posted May 17, 2023

For most people, one close run-in with a life-threatening situation would be enough. Two and you may consider yourself unlucky. But when a third strikes in a few short years, you could be forgiven for thinking, “Why me?”

Not Ryan Thibodaux. The New Orleans-based dentist and 30A regular sees it as a reaffirmation that every day is for living.

The 48-year-old who practices dentistry in Metairie, LA, and Southern Colorado, got the first of his trio of bad news in 2018. He was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma – a Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that develops when white blood cells cluster together to form lumps in your lymph glands or organs.

Ryan’s had grown to the size of a peanut butter jar, and after 24 months of chemotherapy, his immune system was down to nothing. Just in time for COVID-19, days before Christmas 2020.

Weakened by the cancer treatment, Ryan was in no state to fight off the pandemic that took millions worldwide as victims in that first wave.

“Three fevers a day at 101.9 or above, weight loss, lack of taste and smell, severe fatigue, a mental fog, over stimulus to light and sound – you name it,” said Ryan. “I thought I was going to die.”

He was in the hospital for several weeks, often in strict isolation. “It was intense suffering, gasping in the fetal position for multiple days, no sleep,” he recalled.

But having a sense of purpose, being focused on recovery, and telling himself – repeatedly – it was going to be alright, helped pass the long, brutal weeks.

“I would repeat a chant: ‘Every fever eventually passes. Every fever eventually passes.’ You have to have hope.” And that hope slowly helped him recover.

After spending months in the hospital – first for chemotherapy, then for COVID – Ryan decided he would focus the rest of his life with “an attitude of gratitude.” He prayed and gave thanks. “Give me one more breath, one more step, and guidance on how to use them.”

After two close calls, Ryan decided to accept that God had complete control of the future. “All the time you spend worrying about what’s going to happen in a year, six months, who’s going to do this, and what’s going to happen, it’s all wasted energy,” he said.

Prior to these two close brushes with death, Ryan had led an active life. A father and husband, a busy dental practice, a trumpeter and founding member of the Bucktown Allstars, a fitness enthusiast, and a man who goes on service missions to rebuild hurricane-ravaged communities in Puerto Rico.

Last summer, when a friend invited him to Camino De Santiago, a hiking and religious pilgrimage in Spain, he had no hesitation. Ryan found himself walking through the countryside of Northern Spain and stumbling across the town of Los Arcos, a population of 1,200 people in the East Estrella region, about 40 miles from Pamplona.

Spain likes a fiesta, and small communities in rural Spain go all in for these celebrations. Ryan likened it to Mardi Gras. The whole community was involved, no one’s a stranger, there are parades, porch parties, great food, plenty of beverages, and amazing music and dancing in the streets.

“I’m blowing my whistle; the marching band is coming down the hill. I know the clarinet player, he’s like hugging me, it’s amazing.” Ryan forgot his health worries of the previous year and was living for the moment, all caught up in this spontaneous outpouring of joy.

For those who know their Spanish fiestas, you’ll know Pamplona is famous for its festival – Running of the Bulls. While the headline event takes place in the city, the surrounding towns and villages stage their own version too. Los Arcos is no exception. Caught up in all the excitement, Ryan was carousing in the middle of the throbbing crowd.

“For 40 minutes, the bulls are running back and forth, and locals are running with them, but they are smaller bulls, and I’m like, ‘I can do this. They’re getting tired.’”

What Ryan didn’t know were the rules and customs of the Running of the Bulls.

“In the last 15 minutes of the event, they pull the younger bulls,” said Ryan. “Then they let out these more aggressive bulls, disoriented, a little bit frustrated, drooling, smelling terrible, like they’re just not wanting to be there.”

Overcome by the desire to be involved, Ryan joined in. “I’m running in the street, but foolishly, I’m blowing my whistle as I’m running,” he laughed. “It was the whistle that did me in.”

That and making a schoolboy error – turning his back on the bull.

“I learned afterward that before they hit you, they give you a warning: they dip their heads, and obviously if you’re looking at them, you can step out of the way,” winced Ryan. “I didn’t know that.”


Ryan was caught from behind; the angry and frustrated bull gored him in his upper thigh, then drove him forward on the cobblestone road. Ryan was bloodied, battered, and bruised, and with a broken wrist and a shattered ankle.

There is a picture in the local newspaper showing the one-ton piece of beef standing on Ryan’s leg. 

Residents rushed to his aid, trying to get the bull away from him, and shepherded him into the safety of a doorway, but the event had to be suspended and an ambulance came and took the unfortunate pilgrim to Hospital de San Pedro de Logroño.

Ryan with his family

Locals looked on with concern. Not just because tourists and pilgrims being trampled by angry bulls has to be bad for your town’s reputation, but because in the hours before the incident, Ryan had made an impression on the townsfolk. Esteban Fernández de Las Heras, the clarinet player Ryan had recognized in the marching band, recalled that the American visitor had been an enthusiastic follower of the performance and had started a conversation about their shared love of music.

So, here he was again, being rushed to the hospital for emergency medical care. Three times in a couple of years, Ryan had been close to meeting his maker.

But even this latest run-in didn’t dampen Ryan’s spirit of adventure and gratitude. The stoic Ryan put it into perspective.

“After spending three to six months lying in the fetal position, gasping for air, to be sitting in a wheelchair breathing comfortably was less of a concern,” he said.

So, what’s next for Ryan? He is planning a trip back to Spain this summer to pray and give thanks to the many people in Los Arcos who helped him in his time of need. But this time, he is wisely giving the bulls a miss and, instead, bringing his trumpet to reconnect with his new-found musician friends.

Ryan, and his maker, have a plan.

To learn more about Ryan, follow his adventures on Instagram.







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Martin Liptrot is British but has lived along 30A since 2004. After a global career in advertising he has now made NorthWest Florida his home and runs local PR and Marketing Agency Martin’s passions include Soccer, Cricket, Rugby, Formula One and Horse Racing. He is a fan of craft beers and fine wines and enjoys good company and long lazy lunches in any of the spectacular restaurants on 30A.