Pennsylvania man amputates leg, pinned by fallen tree, then drives to safety Man survives

leg is retrieved later

July 22, 1993|By Michael E. Ruane | Michael E. Ruane,Knight-Ridder News Service

Dairy farmer John I. Huber Jr. was in the barn getting ready to milk the cows Tuesday evening when his 8-year-old daughter, Mariel, came and said there was a man outside who needed to see him.

Things were busy, and Mr. Huber, 43, thought, "Well, if he needs to see me, why doesn't he come over and see me?" Outside, Mr. Huber found an agitated man sitting in a brown pickup truck. Mr. Huber thought he might be drunk, and paused.

Then the man held up his left leg. It was bloody. There was a tourniquet around it. And from just below the knee, it was gone. "Help me," the man said, "I'm bleeding to death."

The man was Donald Wyman, 37, a construction worker, and he had just been forced to carve off half his leg with the 7-inch blade of a pocket knife after the leg was crushed and pinned by a tree trunk in rural Jefferson County, about 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

He had made a tourniquet from a shoelace and a wrench. He had dragged himself up a hill to his bulldozer -- leaving a trail like a wounded deer, rescue workers would say later. He had somehow maneuvered the bulldozer several hundred yards to his pickup, which he had then driven 1 1/4 miles to Mr. Huber's farm.

When Mr. Wyman sat pleading for help about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday in Mr. Huber's driveway, he still was only part way through his ordeal.

What followed was a frantic, life-and-death scramble involving Mr. Huber; the hemorrhaging Mr. Wyman, who drew firefighters a map leading back to the accident site; and a race to retrieve the limb, which remained pinned beneath the tree, still clad in blue jeans and a laced-up, steel-toed work boot.

In the end, Mr. Wyman of New Bethlehem, Pa., survived. He was upgraded from serious to fair condition yesterday in the Punxsutawney Area Hospital. Leg reattachments are rare, and hospital spokesman Hank Wilson said that, for the time being, Mr. Wyman's family wanted no information released on whether the leg had been saved.

But Mr. Huber, a deeply religious man who wept in a telephone interview yesterday in recounting the story, said one thing was certain: "It was a miracle before my eyes. The man should have been dead."

Mr. Wyman told Mr. Huber that he tried unsuccessfully to dig his leg out and screamed in vain for help for about an hour.

Finally, fearing he would bleed to death, he fashioned a tourniquet and began to amputate his leg with his pocket knife.

"I can hardly believe it," said Randall W. Culp, a microvascular surgeon at the Hand Rehabilitation Center of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Mr. Wyman ought to have passed out, Dr. Culp said, although he may have been helped by numbness from the tourniquet or from the injury.

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