If you're looking for someone who can stay calm under pressure, Jerry Verhagen just might be your guy. This past November, while cutting wood at his father's house, Jerry's sleeve got caught in the saw blade. The saw severed his arm between the elbow and wrist. Jerry recently told WEAU 13 News that it took him "like 5 seconds" to process the fact that his hand was lying on the ground, separated from his body. But then he kicked into action, running "to the house … to get help." Fortunately, his father's girlfriend, a nursing assistant, was there and "took the unattached limb, cleaned it and kept it preserved." The family called 911, and a Mayo One medical helicopter was soon on its way.
While the Verhagens waited, Jerry reassured his family. "I'll be OK," he told them. "This will be fine." His mother, Rebecca Hulett, who had been summoned to the scene, wasn't so sure. "It's very hard to wrap your head around that 20 minutes ago, your child had an arm — and now they don't," she told the TV station. Though Jerry says he "was trying to tell jokes" to ease the worry for others, his own thoughts were darker. He kept telling himself, "Don't pass out," and focused on keeping himself awake until help arrived.
A little more than a half hour later, help did arrive. And Mayo One transported Jerry to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, where a team led by Brian Carlsen, M.D., a Mayo plastic and orthopedic surgeon, was waiting.
While there were no guarantees Jerry's arm could be reattached, the teenager did have "a couple things going for him," Dr. Carlsen tells WEAU, including "a fairly sharp amputation." He also had an experienced team working on his behalf, a team that routinely cares for "some pretty bad injuries." As Jerry was being wheeled in to surgery, he had just one question for Dr. Carlsen: "Are you going to be able to save the hand?"
Dr. Carlsen promised to do his best. But the procedure would be "complicated for a few different reasons," Dr. Carlsen tells WEAU, including the location of the injury, which was right "where the muscles and tendons meet in the forearm." Those muscles and tendons, along with bones and blood vessels, would all need to be reattached. And during a nine-hour surgery, they were.
While his surgery was a success, Jerry's journey is far from over. He had more than a month of "intensive therapy" at Mayo Clinic before returning home to Alma Center, and continues to attend therapy sessions closer to home. WEAU reports Jerry "is able to move his wrist and is working on moving his fingers," progress that has impressed his surgeon. "Given the level of the injury, he's progressed better than I would have thought," Dr. Carlsen says. Ditto Jerry. He says he's also "amazed by" his recovery. Us, too.
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