Patient trapped by fallen tree during tornado walks again
On Jan. 25, severe weather rolled through Mississippi and Alabama, destroying homes and causing severe damage in several communities. In Fultondale, the Hernandez family waited in their home for the storms to pass. But when an EF3 tornado touched down close by, Arnoldo Vasquez Hernandez realized his family could be in danger.
After waking their three sleeping children, the family raced to the basement to take shelter. Hernandez and his youngest daughter were the last downstairs, and as he pushed her to safety, a large tree fell, crashing on top of the house. The tree pinned Hernandez’s left leg against the basement stairs.
Firefighters and paramedics could not free Hernandez from the 100-year-old oak compromising the structure of the house. First responders put in a call to UAB. A team from UAB Medicine rushed to the scene, including trauma and acute care surgeon Dr. Donald Reiff, emergency medicine physician Dr. Blayke Gibson, trauma and burn nurse manager Sherichia Hardy, and India Alford, director of Nursing Services at Gardendale Freestanding Emergency Department.
With the house on the verge of collapse, the team determined the only safe way to free Hernandez was to perform an on-site amputation. In the rain and darkness, in an unstable building, they removed his left leg.
Using the equipment on hand, the team freed Hernandez and transported him to UAB Hospital, where he underwent further surgery.
Two days after the accident, Dr. Conley Carr, residency program director for the UAB Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, began providing Hernandez post-trauma care.
“This was certainly a unique case,” Carr said. “He was the first patient I have seen who required surgery in the field after a devastating trauma.”
Carr specializes in overseeing patients during recovery from injuries and has a focus on people dealing with limb loss. He provides counseling and management of problems such as phantom pain.
During his care at UAB Hospital, Hernandez remained in high spirits, bringing smiles to those who surrounded him.
“He always looks at the positive,” Carr said. “He is definitely a ‘glass half-full’ type of person, which bodes well for his staying motivated during his healing process.”
After several appointments with Carr, Hernandez was cleared to to be fitted for a prosthetic leg and begin seeing Brian Mueller, a certified prosthetist and manager of the UAB Orthotics and Prosthetics Clinic.
On June 1, Hernandez was able to try on a prosthetic, allowing him to walk for the first time in five months.
Mueller and his team created a customized device, matching the top of the titanium carbon fiber prosthetic to Hernandez’s skin tone.
One week later, Hernandez, beaming with joy, walked out of his last fitting appointment with a new leg.
“Due to the traumatic nature of the accident, and how much of his leg was damaged, his injury was a little more difficult,” Mueller said. “It could be between six to eight months for him to get fully adjusted to this new normal; but he is already doing great, and I am confident that he will do well with his new prosthesis.”
As he left UAB’s Spain Rehabilitation Center, Hernandez said, “My children keep asking me when we can go to the park again, and thanks to UAB, I can now take them.”
(Courtesy of UAB News)