LA PORTE CITY, Iowa (AP) — Roger Batchelder knew instantly what had happened, and he knew it wasn't good.
Batchelder, 74, was clearing trees from his neighbor's property on Halloween Day. He cut a notch in the tree and waited for it to fall. It didn't.
He tried back-cutting. The tree came loose at the bottom, but then the wind changed directions.
"The trunk of the tree was coming right at me," he said.
He stepped back, but his foot found a hole in the earth causing his body to pitch forward. He used his left hand to pitch the chain saw behind him, hoping to save himself from a traumatic injury.
But, it was his right hand that was in trouble. In the fall, his arm landed across the stump of the tree.
"Then the whole tree came down on my hand, and it severed my hand at the wrist," he said.
Despite the pain Batchelder remained conscious throughout the ordeal.
"I could feel the bones crushing in my arm. Then the hand come off in the sleeve of my jacket, and it was just kind of flopping around," he said from his hospital room in Iowa City. "Then it fell out on the ground. I thought, 'Well, I can't leave that hand there.' So I bent over to pick it up, and that's when I fell over."
Batchelder's wife, Patty, saw him fall from her vantage point in the couple's truck. All she could think was, "Oh God, don't let him die, and he didn't," she said.
"I had no idea what was going to happen. I really did not," she said. "I am grateful to God for all the many people who are trained to do this kind of work. They are very special people in this world, and I am grateful he is alive."
Patty was the first to reach her husband. She used his coat sleeve to put pressure on the severed limb and then ran to find help. The La Porte City Ambulance and Rescue crew arrived within minutes and quickly called for a helicopter to transport Roger to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where a surgical team, led by plastic surgeon Dr. Jerrod Keith, was waiting.
Keith met Roger in the emergency department, examined the amputated hand to determine its condition and immediately began informing Roger of his options, which included replanting the severed hand to his arm.
"Even though it was a traumatic injury the condition of the tissue was well enough that we had the opportunity to replant it," Keith said. "We talked about his medical history. He is very active. He was on the fire department for a long time and was regularly out doing work like this. We gave him the option and told him it was certainly worth a shot."
Roger quickly agreed to the surgery, and the prolonged recovery that would go along with it.
"I thought if I could save what nature gave to me it would be better than any artificial thing they could put on there," he said.
Within five hours of the accident Keith and a team of doctors, including fellow plastic surgeon Brad Coots and orthopedic surgeon Todd McKinley, had blood flowing back into the hand. The procedure took eight hours to complete.
Though Keith said they see a "fair number" of replants every year, they rarely see one like this.
"Most commonly we see fingers, and most who come in are not in a condition where we can put them back on," he said. "Forearms are much more rare. Forearm amputation is rare, and replanting is even more so."
Keith credited the quick thinking of the La Porte City first responders and the helicopter crew with preserving the hand.
It's too soon to tell how much function will return to Roger's right hand. Nerves regrow at about one inch a month. Roger's hand was amputated about 2 inches above his wrist.
Roger said he is ready to begin his hand therapy, some of which has already started.
"I want everything as close as possible to what it was. I want everything to be like it was before, but they said that might not be possible," he said. "You don't realize how many times you use that hand until you can't. You spill a lot of food, I'll tell you that. And the writing. I have to think in my mind that I am drawing a picture every time I sign my own name."
Despite the uncertainty and extended therapy, Roger said he is happy to even be in a position for this to be an option.
"I didn't think that was possible. Then I thought I would be down here a long time, about a month. They have come a long way in their surgery," he said. "Right away, right after the reattachment, I felt my fingers, and they were warm. It was a surprise to me. I got hope after all that, that if there is blood circulating that I was going to get better."
Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com