Firefighters, surgeons save man's severed hand

On the 911 call, her panic is palpable.

"My husband cut his hand really bad," Phyllis Urbanek tells the 911 operator. "Can they come and get him, please?" she implores.

Seventy-one-year-old Bernard Urbanek nearly severed his left hand in a home construction accident in February. His wife says she was terrified that her husband of almost 50 years might bleed to death before help arrived.

"I just said to myself, 'There's no way a saw is going to take my husband away from me.'" Mrs. Urbanek said.

Bernard had been using a mitre saw in his backyard when his sleeve got caught in the blade. The saw left him with a jagged, deep, bloody cut from one side of his wrist to the other.

The Henry County Fire Department says firefighters and paramedics reached the Urbanek's home in less than six minutes after the initial 911 call.

"There was just a piece of skin holding it on," Lt. Travis Miller said, describing the gruesome injury. Lt. Miller says firefighters' first priority was simply to stop the bleeding.

The firefighters applied a tourniquet to slow the loss of blood and loaded Mr. Urbanek into an ambulance.

The saw had done significant damage — leaving their patient with broken bones, mangled muscles and torn tendons. Privately, the firefighters say they thought Mr. Urbanek would almost surely lose his hand. But to give him the best chance of surviving, they had to get him to a hospital quickly.

Firefighters drove Mr. Urbanek to Grady Memorial Hospital where he was rushed into emergency surgery. The surgical team was led by Dr. Diane Payne, an orthopedic surgeon with the Emory School of Medicine.

Dr. Payne spent more than ten hours in surgery, painstakingly repairing and reattaching Mr. Urbanek's hand.

Dr. Payne says Mr. Urbanek will need months of intensive rehab and physical therapy to regain the full use of his hand.

After he was released from the hospital, Mr. Urbanek went to visit the firefighters at Station #2. He says he wanted to personally thank the people who he credits with saving his life and making it possible to save his hand.

"They saved my life," Mr. Urbanek said. "They took really good care of me."


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