It was the kind of call that might cause a dispatcher to wonder. While the event itself was freakish, the fact that it occurred on Halloween 2012 made it that much more surreal. A man was down in a field, his hand severed by a falling tree.
Unfortunately for Roger Batchelder, his efforts to bring down a locust tree were anything but a Halloween prank. Having just finished a diagonal cut into the hearty tree, a sudden shift of the wind brought the tree down, but not in the direction Roger anticipated. With the point of the tree sliding down the trunk pointed at Roger’s chest, he reacted quickly, throwing the chainsaw he was cutting with out of harm’s way. As he stepped away, though, his foot caught a hole, preventing him from getting clear of the accelerating tree. Down it came on Roger’s right arm, about halfway between his wrist and elbow.
“I could feel the bones crushing in my arm. I thought, ‘Uh, oh. I could be in trouble,” he said, recalling the incident.
The force of the falling tree completely severed Roger’s arm. Fortunately, his wife, Patty, was nearby and saw the accident. Rushing to his assistance, she immediately applied pressure to the wound.
Despite the freakish injury happening on what could be called the freakish of days, the response for assistance was immediate and widespread, as crews from La Porte City, North Benton and Garrison rushed to the scene. With the hope that perhaps the arm could be saved, a helicopter was also summoned. From the early moments of the crisis, calls were being made in an attempt to find the closest medical facility with the necessary personnel to attempt the procedure of reattaching the severed arm.
One of the first challenges facing emergency crews was extricating Roger from the mass of foliage around him. Secured to a backboard, the team had to lift the stout man up and around tree limbs and the rugged terrain. Another challenge was the distance to the nearest road accessible to the ambulances responding to the call. Fortunately, the ground was dry and firm enough for the La Porte City ambulance to go off-road and greatly reduce the distance the first responders had to carry Roger, who, throughout the ordeal, managed to keep his sense of humor.
“I’d shake your hand, but I don’t know where mine’s at,”” he remembers telling those who came to his aid.
For the first responders from La Porte City Fire and Rescue, the event was described by Jeff McFarland as, “…one of those calls you’ll never forget.” Last Tuesday, nearly one year following the accident, Roger, Patty, and members of the family gathered at the La Porte City Fire Station to offer their thanks for the swift and professional response credited with saving Roger’s life, and his arm, which was reattached by a plastic surgeon in Iowa City.
Initially, after Roger was loaded on the helicopter, there was a delay in transport, as calls were still being made to determine what location to take him. It wasn’t until the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, along with hospitals in Waterloo and Des Moines were eliminated from consideration, that the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics in Iowa City became the preferred destination. After Roger’s hand was reattached, doctors told him that the procedure would not have been possible had he arrived 15-20 minutes later. As it was, it took the medical staff several minutes to remove the splinters and shards of wood embedded in Roger’s hand before the procedure could be attempted.
As Jeff McFarland noted, “Everything went right with this call.”
Standing among members of the department gathered at the fire station, Roger’s message was filled with emotion, as he struggled to express his gratitude.
“All your hard work and training paid off. Thank you,” he said, wiping back the tears.
Three surgeries and one year later, Roger has regained partial use of his hand. There is a tingling sensation present, which indicates the hand’s nerves are healing and regenerating. One of the ongoing issues he faces is the scar tissue in his arm that makes it difficult for some of his muscles to perform as they did prior to the accident. He continues to participate in physical therapy and remains focused on making the most of what he has instead of worrying about what he doesn’t.