Sitting in a wheelchair at Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho, 43-year-old Justin Firth, his wife, Anny, and his doctors are still stunned that he's alive.
On June 27, Firth was working at Southern Idaho Commodities in Jerome building a fence. A heavy hay bale spear, called a tine, was attached to a loader when suddenly, the attachment fell and the spear pierced through Firth's back and out of his stomach.
"I felt something hit me, and I went to the ground," Firth tells EastIdahoNews.com. "I looked up to find out what happened and I (saw) that belt tine sticking through me and into the ground. I was pretty scared. It's pretty mind-boggling."
Firth couldn't move, but he remained alert and says he didn't feel any pain.
"I never saw any blood come out of the front, and I could feel a little moisture on my back," Firth says. "I never got a heat sensation like it was bleeding profusely or anything."
His coworkers called 911 and telephoned Anny. She happened to be on her way to meet Justin with their 14-year-old son, who works with him.
"The officer stopped me at the driveway and said that Justin had requested me not to see him like that," Anny says. "The officer is my neighbor and I said, 'How bad is it? Shoot straight with me.' He said it was pretty bad and told me to have faith and pray. So we prayed. Lots of prayers."
The 40-pound spear was still attached to the machine when it went through Firth's body. His colleagues grabbed a heat torch and cut it off from the loader before Firth was loaded into a helicopter and flown to Portneuf, where a team of surgeons jumped into action.
"A lot of the time was spent very, very carefully positioning him in the operating room because the object was still left in place," Dr. Terrence Rager says.
It took Rager and Drs. Jacob Delarosa and Jorge De Amorim Filho and others nearly four hours to remove the spear and repair internally injuries Firth sustained.
The surgeons say that had the post gone into Firth's body a few millimeters to the left or the right, he could have died.
"The object missed his spinal cord, his aorta and it missed the tube connecting his kidney to his bladder by a few centimeters," Dr. Rager says. "One of the most important things to learn when dealing with the pre-hospital and early hospital care of impalement injury is not to remove the object."
Part of Firth's colon was damaged, but it was fixed during surgery and his long term prognosis looks good. He is expected to go home from the hospital this week.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident but, up to this point, nobody is quite sure why or how the attachment fell from the loader in the first place.
The Firths' plan to keep the spear as a daily reminder that Firth's time on earth isn't quite finished yet.
"I want to say a big thank you to the doctors and everyone who helped saved me," Firth says. "This could have killed me instantly if it would have hit just a little bit one way or another. It could have crushed my skull or paralyzed me."
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