Surgeon tells of race to save man’s life after arm torn off
A plastic surgeon has revealed how he carried out an emergency operation to save the life of a man whose arm was torn off after it became trapped in a cement mixer.
The 27-year-old man, from Belfast, had his arm severed in a large industrial cement mixer on Monday afternoon at St Bernadette's Primary School in Ballymurphy, west Belfast.
He was rushed to the Ulster Hospital, at Dundonald — the main plastic surgery centre in Northern Ireland — but despite the best efforts of surgeons they were unable to reattach his arm.
Alastair Brown, consultant plastic surgeon, said: “It was so badly crushed that it wasn’t salvageable. We seldom get injuries as severe as this and we always do our best to keep the limb but in this case there was no way we could put it back on. It was too badly damaged.”
The surgeon said his first priority was to save the man’s life.
“This was a potentially fatal injury,” Mr Brown said. “He had lost a lot of blood. We were working with very large blood vessels and you only have a short time to secure them.”
During the three-hour emergency operation, the surgical team grafted part of his damaged limb on to the stump of his arm.
“He does have part of his upper arm below the shoulder left and this will facilitate fitting an artificial limb at a later stage,” the surgeon said.
The patient, who did not wish to be named, told the surgeon that his jacket had caught in the cement mixer.
“He told me there was a blade in the machine which pulled his arm in,” Mr Brown said. “He could hear the machine really close to his ear at one point. The only reason his life was saved was because the arm was completely ripped off.”
The workman was given high levels of morphine and is in a comfortable condition, but the consultant said he would remain in hospital for the foreseeable future.
“We tried to maintain as much of the length of the arm as possible,” Mr Brown said. “He will receive a lot of rehabilitation over the next few months. On a positive note it was his left, non-dominant arm which was injured and he is also lucky to have his life.”
The surgeon offered advice to anyone dealing with an amputation — wrap the limb in a soaked towel, place in a bag and put ice around the bag rather than next to the limb.
The workman was helping to build a Big Lottery-funded playground in the primary school grounds. He was employed by Dunmurry-based firm Scott Ferguson who were contracted by the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB).
A BELB spokesman said: “The Board's thoughts are with the man and his family at this time.”
However, there was no one available from Scott Ferguson Building Company yesterday.
The Health and Safety Executive has launched an investigation.