With more than 30 years’ experience in construction, Edward (Jerry)
Chilvers, 60, of Laguna Beach, never expected that working with a chop
saw — something he had done dozens, if not hundreds of times before
— would be the cause of a life-threatening injury. But in February
2016, the unthinkable happened when his hand was pulled into a saw blade
while at work, nearly severing it completely from his body.
“I don’t remember the details of the accident, but I do remember
thinking that I couldn’t panic — I knew that if I didn’t
try to stop the bleeding, I would become unconscious and die,” recalls Jerry.
In the frantic moments that followed, Jerry’s military and first
aid training took over. He knew he needed help, but since he was working
alone he applied pressure to his hand and ran as quickly as he could to
the nearest street. Thankfully, Steve Gesiriech, a retired Edison electrician,
spotted Jerry, pulled over to call 9-1-1 and used his belt to help Jerry
make a tourniquet. Both men’s quick thinking helped keep Jerry alive
as he was transported to
Mission Hospital’s Trauma Center, where
Mark Elzik, MD, orthopedic surgeon and hand specialist, completed the complex surgery
to re-attach his hand.
“This is the type of an extreme case that you see only once every
five or 10 years, and some surgeons will never see one in their lifetime,”
said Dr. Elzik, who is one of only a handful of surgeons in the state
whose specialized training prepared him for this type of replantation.
For nearly nine hours, Dr. Elzik worked to align the bones, tendons, nerves
and blood vessels in a manner that he describes it “like figuring
out a puzzle.” As each finger has three tendons and two nerves,
he went step by step to match them up and used pins, wires and sutures
to put Jerry’s hand back together. Herbert C. Eidt, MD, orthopedic
surgeon, assisted Dr. Elzik during the complicated surgery. A military
trained physician who served several tours in Afghanistan, Dr. Eidt is
experienced with trauma injuries and complex surgeries.
“An amputation of the hand is a devastating injury,” Dr. Elzik
said. “My team and I were determined to do everything we could to
avoid that outcome, as we know how an amputation can affect the patient’s
ability to earn a living and carry out daily activities — not to
mention the lasting psychological impact it can have.”
During his stay in the Intensive Care Unit (where Jerry celebrated his
60th birthday), Dr. Elzik successfully utilized leech therapy, in which
leeches were attached to the tips of Jerry’s fingers and naturally
secreted an anticoagulant that reduced blood clots and improved circulation.
After several days, his care team was pleased with his progress, as blood
flow was restored to his hand and fingers — an indication that the
replantation would be successful. Four months after the surgery, Jerry
had regained sensation to his fingers and could use them to pinch; his
long-term goal is to continue his outpatient rehabilitation therapy and
work toward gripping his hammer once again.
“I’m so incredibly grateful that my accident happened to occur
near Mission Hospital, where I was cared for by an outstanding trauma
team and surgeon,” said Jerry. “I believe that my injury was
so severe that had I been taken anywhere else, the chances are slim that
I would still have my hand today.”
As a Level II trauma facility, Mission Hospital is uniquely prepared to
immediately address the most critical cases like Jerry’s, maintaining
everything necessary to treat life-threatening injuries around-the-clock.
These dedicated trauma specialists handle approximately 2,500 traumas
each year, and are completely dedicated to trauma care — unlike
many hospitals, in which trauma personnel are also charged with emergency
room responsibilities. In addition, world-class physicians and surgeons
like Dr. Elzik are on-site to treat the most critical specialized cases
— many of which would have needed to be transferred to a different
facility had Jerry ended up in an ER at a different hospital.
Coupled with the care he received at Mission Hospital, Jerry believes he
is still alive today thanks to his history of first aid training, which
prepared him to stay calm and jump into action during a dangerous situation.
He was introduced to first aid at the age of 8 as part of the Laguna Beach
Lifeguards Sea Cubs and Junior Lifeguards programs, and later enhanced
his skills during the eight years he spent in the U.S. Army. After his
time in the military, Jerry’s construction career began with building
houses in Germany, and he later served as a site manager overseeing playground
structures at military bases throughout Europe. When he returned to the
U.S., he continued in the field and has been working in construction ever since.
While no one wants to imagine that something like this could happen to
them, Jerry’s experience proves that a traumatic injury may occur
when you least expect it — even if you are well-trained and skilled
in your craft.
“I hope that others can learn from my story just how important it
is to know first aid, which will help you be as prepared as you can for
situations such as these,” he said. “It could truly be the
difference between life and death for you or someone you encounter along
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.