These are numbers that will stick with me for the rest of my life. This is the day that changed my life forever.
It was just a regular day, nothing out of the ordinary. I woke up at 6 in the morning to get ready to go to work at 7. I worked at a fruit snack candy plant in Sumter, South Carolina, about 10 minutes from my house.
My job involved managing the trays where the candy mixtures are deposited and stacked back up onto carts to be moved into a cure room to cool. After all that is done, I would clean up the room and sometimes help packagers until the end of my shift.
It felt like any other day.
I finished my tasks and heard that some of the new workers are stacking trays of starch in the back of the plant and since my peers and I had some time, we thought we’d come and assist. While we were helping them, we were informed by our supervisor that they needed two people to help the maintenance guy on the roof. We normally have two maintenance guys, but due to one of the guys being terminated, they were short on people.
I was one of the guys chosen to go up. I’ve been on the roof before, but it’s always given me an eerie feeling. The maintenance guy needed help cleaning up the starch build-up in the machine, and that’s exactly what we did. We cleaned the machine from top to bottom. After this process, our supervisor would call the maintenance guy to turn on the machine to make sure everything’s running smoothly. The machine kept turning off, so the maintenance guy continued his inspection to figure out the issue. It’s around 2:15 in the afternoon, and the machine is nearly ready. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I’ve learned that there’s an auger at the bottom of the machine that breaks the starch down into smaller pieces.
This is when it all happened.
As I finished, I began hearing loud noises and feeling movements. It was the machine turning on. The auger clinched onto me, grasping my fingers within a split second. My instinct was to pull out my hand out as fast as I could and when I did, that’s when I realized my fingers had been ripped apart from my body. I pulled my hand out and the maintenance guy and my coworker were in shock! My coworker quickly went down to get help. I tried hard to calm myself down because I knew panicking wouldn’t help anything. The maintenance guy quickly tied his belt around my arm to help slow the bleeding. The amount of blood that I was losing out of each finger was like nothing I’d ever seen before, except in the movies.
We had to get off the roof as soon as possible, and I miraculously maneuvered my way down the ladder with one hand. Couldn’t believe it myself. We got to the front of the plant, where I saw the other employees in complete disbelief. Thankfully, we had people who are trained for these types of incidents. They wrapped up my hand to try to stop the bleeding until the paramedics arrived.
The paramedics immediately checked my vitals and I was transported to a helicopter to be flown to the doctor’s hospital in Augusta, which is about two hours driving distance from our location. I arrived in the hospital and was taken in by the staff members who were all telling me everything is going to be okay, but at that moment, all I wanted was to see my parents’ faces again. The doctor tells me that it’s going to be a long procedure and I asked him if I was going to die. He said with confidence that I wouldn’t, but that what’s ahead is going to be a long process and a new beginning for me.
My first surgery was to get my fingers reattached to my body. I had lost 4 fingers. The surgery took 26 hours, the longest surgery any patient has had at that hospital at that time. I had surgery on Wednesday and didn’t wake up until Friday and was cared for by nurses and doctors who worked around the clock trying to keep my fingers alive. I was grateful my family was able to visit me in the ICU, even for short periods of time.
After 7 days of outstanding pain and procedures, the nurses had to take unconventional routes such as putting leeches on my hand to keep blood flowing in my fingers and blood transfusion, but unfortunately, my fingers couldn’t be saved. I was heartbroken but I understood what needed to be done. A few days later, I went in for a shorter surgery to remove my “zombie” fingers. I was finally released from the hospital two days later and I realized as I was going home that I will have a new normal to face.
Finding Naked Prosthetics
During my recovery, I began searching for prosthetic devices. I searched on YouTube and found Naked Prosthetics (NP). I went to Hanger Clinic and my prosthetist told me a little bit more about NP devices and other options, but I knew that Naked Prosthetics was my number one choice.
We started the process and months went by and I finally received my prosthesis. It was something I’d never seen before. I was so excited because I knew it would improve the functionality on my affected hand, which happens to be my dominant.
After the first couple of weeks using my prosthesis, I felt like I was a baby deer who’s trying to walk again. As the time passes, I got use to the functions and movements my new “bionic” hand has given me. I went from picking up little things like stones and paper clips out of a rice bin to picking up pens and pencils and grasping larger objects, as well as throwing and catching miniature tennis balls. I’ve adapted to doing certain things without my fingers before, but now with my prosthesis, I can do more things with a little more confidence. I can even throw a football again thanks to my device.
At first, I was worried that my family wouldn’t be able to look at me the same. Even though there are a few things I cannot do anymore unfortunately, there are a lot more things I can do now thanks to my device. My family has started calling me “The Bionic Man!”
I know that I can’t do that same job anymore, but I am confident that I can do more things and then some with this new opportunity given to me—to inspire others who are just like me and to show them that for every setback, there is a major comeback!