Orthopedic surgery team reattaches partially severed limb

Stephen Boeding
Stephen Boeding from West Point, Iowa

Stephen's story–a helping hand

In October 2016, Stephen Boeding was trimming a tree branch in his yard when the unexpected happened.

A loose tree limb knocked him off balance, causing him to fall from his stepladder. His left forearm landed on the still-running blade of the chainsaw.

He rushed to the house, where his wife called 911. Local emergency medical technicians applied a tourniquet to his arm as they waited for AirCare Emergency Transport to arrive. Stephen was flown from the front yard of his home in West Point, Iowa, to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

“I was in the helicopter, and I just couldn’t believe what was happening,” Stephen says. “Then I heard them radio to the hospital that they were transporting a ‘possible amputee.’ That really hit me.”

The injury to his arm was extensive, and Stephen lost nearly five pints of blood.

“He’d damaged every structure on the flexor side of his arm—the inner forearm—except for one blood vessel,” says UI Health Care orthopedic surgeon Lindsey Caldwell, MD. “The injury extended into his wrist, where it nicked a small section of bone and severed his wrist ligaments as well.”

Stephen, 63, was immediately taken into surgery.

“As one of the only Level 1 Trauma Centers in the state, UI Hospitals & Clinics has the capability and expertise to perform the level of surgery necessary to treat the complex injuries Stephen sustained,” Caldwell says. “We offer hand and upper extremity replantation—the process of reattaching amputated parts—and revascularization services, re-establishing a blood supply to a partially amputated part that has lost its blood supply.”

Stephen underwent a total of three surgeries to repair the damage caused by the chainsaw. Caldwell, who specializes in hand and upper extremity issues, led Stephen’s surgical team.

Caldwell reattached 11 flexor tendons in Stephen’s arm—that is, the structures that control the movement of the wrist, thumb, and fingers of his left hand—as well as the ulnar and median nerves responsible for finger motion and sensation. She also stabilized the wrist joint by reconnecting the ligaments to his wrist bone.

“Dr. Caldwell and her entire team were fantastic,” Stephen says. “I can’t imagine how things might have turned out if it wasn’t for her.”

“To get someone back to the best level of function after such a devastating injury is very satisfying to see,” Caldwell says. “I think he did a wonderful job following through with therapy, and I’m glad that I was able to be part of his care.”

Stephen has regained most of the function in his left hand.  Despite some lingering numbness, he counts himself lucky.

 “Dr. Caldwell asked me what my goal was, and I knew right away that I wanted to be able to hold my grandbabies,” Stephen says. “And now because of her, I can.”