Because of my orthopaedic care, I can use my hands.
There is no way to put into words how to say thank you to the orthopaedic surgeons, Dr. Jeffrey Rodgers and Dr. Matthew Weresh for creating a second chance at life and being able to care for myself and returning to work to support myself and my family. My job consists of doing the daily operations of a City Natural Gas Distribution Systems, this includes manual labor with shovels, operating trenchers and backhoes, and carrying construction materials up to one hundred pounds. I try to show my appreciation to Dr. Rodgers and Dr. Weresh by taking treats to their office nearly every time I go to Des Moines, Iowa. I take baked hams, special beef jerky, cookies, pan brownies, cake, etc. There is just no way to say thanks with all the appreciation I would like to be extended to them.
On the tenth anniversary of this accident I submitted the following to our local newspaper, which was printed in July of 2011.
“Glad to have Ten Fingers and Ten Toes”
July 4th, 2001 started by putting up flags at the Bloomfield South Cemetery in Bloomfield, Iowa. I had a pancake breakfast in the courtyard then went home to mow hay. Jack and Maribel Davis came to the field where I was mowing and left—I’m not sure but I think I had my accident before they returned to the field entrance along Lilac Ave. The front wheels of the tractor dropped in a hole and bounced out. I was driving with my left hand holding a spinner knob on the steering wheel. The reaction reflex of holding on resulted in me pulling the knob off of the shaft, then by not having any direct thing to hold onto I fell off of the tractor seat backwards and reached out to catch myself on the ground. As I did this, the sickle mower passed by totally removing my left hand approximately one inch behind the wrist. The mower also cut through the right forearm approximately midway removing part of the outside bone (ulna) and breaking the inside bone (radius), allowing my right hand to hang upside down below my right elbow. From here the tractor continued on and I needed to get help by walking toward Lilac Ave, which was approximately ½ mile away. The time was around 10:30am. Amazingly the bleeding shut down and I reached this destination. A little humor now to this is that as I was getting close to the road a friend was driving by and I was waving to get his attention. He saw me not noting anything was wrong, honked and went on. That was kind of a discouraging time. I continued on to the shoulder of the road and sat down feeling quite faint. After what seemed like forever a van stopped, it was Cindy Riggenbach and her daughter Bree. Cell phones then weren’t what they are today but I said call 911 for an ambulance. Cindy called and as it started to connect, the battery went dead. I said “I need help and you’re it, I need to get to the hospital.” So she helped me in her van (what a mess I was) and we headed for the Davis County Hospital (DCH) in Bloomfield, Iowa. As we approached I told Cindy I was not going to enter DCH through the main south entrance and the public waiting room, just to go to the ambulance garage and honk. Honking was not needed, for some reason the garage door was open and the ambulance was parked outside, so we just drove right in.
Emergency room personnel kicked in with no hint that I was coming ahead of time. They started trying to stabilize me. Dr. Dolly Cline was on-call and arrived very quickly. I told her I wanted someone to go to the field and retrieve my severed hand. She was very instrumental in getting this search stared. Dick Early was the anesthetist on duty and he was there very quickly to insert an IV, which was needed ASAP as I was going into shock by now.
My wife, Beth, was called to notify her of the situation and she arrived quickly. She was great as she stood by me in the emergency room. She helped the search crew with instructions to try to locate my left hand in the hay field. The helicopter was requested for transport to Iowa Methodist Hospital, but it was not at the Methodist Hospital when we called and it would need to return to Des Moines for fuel before coming to Bloomfield. As this was happening, family, friends, city police, the Sherriff’s Department, Iowa Highway Patrol, Bloomfield Fire Department, EMS and the ambulance crews (about 15 people) were all looking for my missing parts. As of now I am somewhat stable but no helicopter or hand to take with me. Soon the word came that my hand had been found and was in transit to DCH. It was found by the reflection of my wrist watch in the sun under the mowed hay next to my severed hand, also the helicopter was enroute and close. If the helicopter had not been delayed, I have always wondered if they would have sent me to Iowa Methodist without my left hand. There was not much expectation of reattaching because most amputations are mangled beyond repair. As it turned out his hand was cut off about as neatly as it could have been.
I left DCH in a helicopter around 12:00 pm and arrived at Iowa Methodist with surgeons from Des Moines Orthopaedic Surgeons (DMOS) ready to do reconstructive surgery on me. Here it is the 4th of July and I get the hand specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Rodgers and his nurse Randy Utley for my left hand and Dr. Mathew Weresh and his nurse, Marna, for my right arm. Dr. Weresh is a forearm reconstruction specialist. Surgery on my left hand started at 2:30 pm and it took about eight hours. The right arm was at the same time taking approximated four hours. It all reattached and doctors praised DCH for a great job of disinfecting the open wounds. I had no infection and minimal swelling. Recovery went well at Iowa Methodist and I was released 10 days later and went straight to Davis County Fair for lunch.
I had checkups at DMOS with the doctors and at the Occupational Therapy Department for ultrasound and new braces to adjust to doctor’s orders. Another amazing thing to me was my local doctor wondered when I was to get my cast off the first time, as he had not seen a reattachment like this before and he would like to there. He traveled 120 miles and rescheduled his work to attend my appointment to remove my cast. I was very humbled that he did this. He helped me by adding a lot of encouragement during my recovery and still does to this day.
My recovery time at home seemed like a long time but it wasn’t. Doctor’s plans were to see how things progressed in one year. Amazing to everyone, I was at work part-time in less than six months. I had many bright spots during my recovery time. One afternoon I received a phone call. Someone said “Hello, Sully, this is Tom Arnold, I heard you had an accident.” I asked “this is who?” It sure sounded like Tom. I worked with him when we were at Hormel in Ottumwa, Iowa. He said he wanted to come to the house. He came a couple days later with his film crew. We had a great time. He was just starting his sports show, “The Best Damn Sports Show Ever.” So he filmed in our living room and talked. This is the comedian, Tom Arnold. He includes this accident in his dialogue on a regular basis on TV late shows and at comedy clubs. Tom never forgets he is from rural Iowa.
As far as my recovery, it has been amazingly good. As good a thing as can be said is that when I meet someone new they have no idea that I have had a hand reattached. Interesting note is that this is the only hand that Dr. Rodgers has reattached before or since my accident. He said during his internship he was with a team that did something similar.
On the tenth year anniversary I emailed Dr. Rodgers and told him I had all the hay mowed for now. He replied back “you have had some divine assistance, your result is a miracle.”
I then replied, “Happy 4th of July today Dr. Rodgers, I hope today no one needs you as badly as I did 10 years ago today, but if they do, they will be blessed to have great care. Just thinking of you, as every day when I get up and am able to go to work, which was not expected by very many, maybe including me. Just thinking of you and Dr. Weresh many times each day and still show people my amazing results as they ask most every day. Hope you have a great holiday and summer where ever you are.
Thank you, Thank you
PS I have all the hay mowed for the first cutting, but need to rake and bale a little to finish today. Have a new tractor and new hay mower that is much much safer than was in the past.
This goes to show, enjoy life while you can, you just never know what the next moment might bring, or what the results might be.”