March 21, 2017 | It was not uncommon for a seasoned sawmill operator like Mauro Santiago to remove a lodged piece of wood from his machine, but what happened the morning of Aug. 15 was anything but routine.
As he reached to free a piece of lumber, Santiago, 29, accidentally bumped a lever that activated his saw and severed his left hand across the palm.
Santiago didn’t realize what occurred until a co-worker said something, then, he noticed the detached piece of his hand on the floor.
His co-workers, including his brother, quickly responded by placing the severed hand on ice and driving Santiago from the sawmill in Atlanta, Texas, to a hospital about 30 minutes away in Texarkana, Arkansas.
“For them to have reacted that fast, I’m thankful,” said Santiago through his wife, who translated the Spanish to English. “They were the ones who did the most important part of what needed to be done at that moment. Without them, I might not have my hand.”
Upon seeing the severity of the injury, doctors at the Texarkana hospital decided to transport Santiago by ambulance to UAMS where three hand trauma surgeons — John Bracey, M.D.; Mark Tait, M.D.; and John Stephenson, M.D. — were waiting.
UAMS is the only hospital in Arkansas to offer round-the-clock service by hand trauma surgeons.
“It’s a unique instance at UAMS where we’ve recruited a core group of hand surgeons specifically trained in replantations and complex nerve cases,” said Tait. “We’re able to cover these type of injuries 24 hours a day, seven days a week for Arkansas and the region.”
About six hours after the accident, Santiago was in an operating room where the trio of UAMS surgeons worked for nearly 12 hours to reattach his hand. They reattached bones and tendons, microscopically repaired vessels to return blood flow, and completed nerve grafts to restore feeling.
“Working at a level 1 trauma center, it’s not uncommon to see the amputation of one or two fingers, but this case, in which the entire hand was amputated, is very rare,” said Bracey. “It was a detail-oriented, tedious procedure; however, Mauro’s hand was amputated in such a way that the detached part was still in good condition. It was the perfect circumstance for replantation.”
Seven months after his surgery, Santiago is able to move his fingers, grasp a pen and scribble on a piece of paper. He’s still regaining sensitivity and feeling and continues working on strength and movement in physical therapy.
“Our goal is to help him regain finger motion, so he’ll be able to grasp objects and be able to discern hot and cold sensations,” said Stephenson. “It likely won’t be fully functional again, but we want him to be as functional and independent with it as possible.”
Santiago said he understands his hand may never be the same, but whatever the outcome, he’s happy.
“I’m just thankful to have found surgeons who could reattach my hand,” he said. “Now, I’ll do whatever I have to do to make it work.”