W. Baltimore man whose arm was reattached after attack undergoes emergency surgery

Limb was severed by man with sword

June 23, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

A 29-year-old West Baltimore man, whose left arm was reattached after it was severed at the elbow Tuesday night by a sword-wielding assailant, underwent 2 1/2 hours of emergency surgery yesterday to correct a complication from the original procedure.

Jose Ruth, who lives in the city's Penn North section, faces another four to six hours of surgery tomorrow to sew the nerves back together in his reattached limb "if he can tolerate it," said Dr. Mark Deitch, his surgeon at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"He's had a tremendous amount of blood loss," said Deitch, who described Ruth's condition as "critical but stable."

Police said Ruth was in an argument in the 1800 block of Baker St. in West Baltimore about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday when a man pulled out the sword and sliced Ruth's arm at the elbow.

Ruth, with his arm lying on the sidewalk, walked into a nearby liquor store and the assailant fled, police said.

He was transported by ambulance to Shock Trauma. Doctors said he arrived near death, having lost about half his blood.

As police searched for the assailant, paramedics collected the arm, packed it on ice and took it to Shock Trauma, about two minutes behind Ruth, hospital officials said. Deitch reattached it during 10 hours of surgery early Wednesday.

While doctors worked on Ruth, police found the sword about five blocks from where the attack occurred, said Agent Angelique Cook-Hayes, a police spokeswoman.

Detectives arrested Michael Newman, 23, at his home in the 1700 block of Presstman St. He was charged with assault with the intent to murder, maiming and first- and second-degree assault.

Newman, who has been arrested on multiple charges since 1994, is being held without bail.

During yesterday's surgery, Deitch removed a clotted graft in Ruth's reattached arm and replaced it with a portion of a vein from one of the patient's legs.

"That's just one of the risks of the surgery," Deitch said of the clotting.

On Wednesday, Deitch had taken blood vessels from Ruth's legs and grafted them to fill the gaps created by the sword in the major vein and artery to the arm.

Because the sword also cut through the bone at the elbow, Deitch had to rebuild the joint with an "external fixer frame" using pins, screws and clamps.

Tomorrow's surgery will take nerves from Ruth's legs and graft them onto nerves in his reattached arm. Because nerves heal slowly, Deitch said it would take "many, many months" to tell if that procedure is successful.

In the meantime, Deitch said, Ruth faces therapy to maintain flexibility in the arm.

Although there are many reports of arms being reattached, Deitch said Ruth's injuries were "uncommon" because his arm was severed so high up.

"We are lucky it was a clean cut," Deitch said. "If your arm goes through a fan belt or something like that - that is a crushing injury - it makes it very difficult to construct."

Deitch said he hoped Ruth's muscles and nerves would heal enough to enable him to grasp objects with his hand and recover some feeling.

But he added, "The likelihood of him having normal function in that arm is very, very small."

Deitch said he expected Ruth to remain hospitalized for at least another week.

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