Jan. 5, 2017 | Kathy Thomas remembers a booming noise, then, immediately questioning what caused it.
Following a Sunday church service in December 2015, Thomas and her husband spent the afternoon moving items into their new home in Oxford in north central Arkansas. Thomas was in tow with one of her husband’s handguns when the firearm fell out of its holster, hit a nearby trailer and discharged.
“It was deafening,” Thomas recalled of the gunshot. “I did not feel instant pain.”
Thomas looked down to see a gaping wound to her left elbow. The bullet entered through the back of her arm and exited the front, leaving a fist-sized hole in its wake.
“I felt the pain,” she said. “It was intense pain like I’ve never had before.”
Being a nurse, Thomas was afraid the bullet hit an artery in her arm because of the location of the wound.
“We live in rural Arkansas and are about 50 miles from the nearest hospital with trauma capabilities, so I had my husband find a tourniquet and call 911,” said Thomas. “When the ambulance arrived, I guess the nurse in me kicked in and I said, ‘I need 1,000 CCs of normal saline in the right AC as fast as you can get it.’”
Thomas was transported to White River Medical Center in Batesville, where she works as director of risk management and the hospital’s corporate compliance officer. There, she was assessed and referred to UAMS and Shahryar Ahmadi, M.D., an assistant professor in the College of Medicine and director of the Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Center at UAMS.
“There was significant damage to the soft tissue and bone in the elbow, as well as nerve damage,” said Ahmadi. “Both the end of her upper arm bone and the top of both her forearm bones were shattered.”
In the next few weeks, Ahmadi completed three preliminary procedures to clean out tissue and stabilize the area. Ahmadi reconstructed Thomas’ elbow by repairing her ligaments, forearm bones and using a donor elbow. Ahmadi used a CT scan of Thomas’ left elbow to aid him in the process.
“It was a major procedure to be able to put everything back together,” said Ahmadi. “We tried to recreate the whole elbow back to its original shape.”
Now, a year after the accident and with months of physical therapy, Thomas has almost the same function in her elbow as she did before the accident. She is still regaining function in her left hand as nerves from her elbow continue to regenerate.
“I had lots of folks say I was lucky,” said Thomas. “But I’m not lucky, that was simply a miracle. God got me through the entire process.”
Thomas said she was thankful for everyone who played a part in her journey.
“This was a team effort that started with the ambulance that picked me up, all the way to Dr. Ahmadi at UAMS knowing what to do and how to put me back together,” she said.