PITTSBURGH (AP) - A 12-year-old boy whose right arm was severed by a tractor mechanism was doing well after surgery to reattach it, but the extent of his recovery won’t be known for months or years, his surgeon said Wednesday.
So far, Seth Apel’s response has been “incredibly smooth, incredibly stable,” said Dr. Lorelei Grunwaldt, who conducted eight hours of microsurgery at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC on Saturday.
Seth was working with his father, Josh, a self-employed cabinetmaker, and two brothers, ages 15 and 13, on their property in Knox, about 70 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
Seth was hauling and unloading firewood using a farm tractor and trailer with a belt-driven mechanism. The boy’s sleeve apparently got caught in the belt drive, and his arm was severed just below the shoulder.
Josh Apel was up a hill 500 yards away. His father-in-law, who lives nearby, heard the boy’s screams and called for help.
Apel started down the hill to see why his son hadn’t returned for more wood when his father-in-law led him to an ambulance, which was preparing to take Seth to a medical helicopter.
“He’s a very hands-on boy, loves to build things,” Josh Apel said. “But he was in so much pain he was saying he just wanted to meet Jesus.”
The boy’s mother, Angela, was some 40 minutes from home with the couple’s three daughters, 10, 4, and 19 months, when her mother called.
“She couldn’t even tell me what had happened,” Angela Apel said. “But I knew it was bad.”
She arrived just before the helicopter took off.
“Josh was in tears and said, ‘He lost his arm,’ and I said, ‘He’s alive,’” Angela Apel said.
Paramedics carefully packed the limb in ice, and Seth was in surgery within about two hours. The window for reattaching a limb is about six hours, Grunwaldt said.
Seth’s arm wasn’t mangled or crushed and the cut was clean, helping Grunwaldt quickly restore blood flow before reattaching the nerves.
The arm is immobilized and Seth likely won’t have any feeling in it for two or three months. Physical therapists will begin moving the arm for Seth in about six weeks to keep the joints mobile, Grunwaldt said.
“It’s hard to say whether he’ll have a perfectly functioning arm, but we’re very hopeful that he’ll have some use,” Grunwaldt said. “But in a child, I’m always surprised by their regenerative capacities.”
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