Delicate operation: How SCDF officers saved arm caught in meat grinder

SINGAPORE - When Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers saw his left forearm stuck in a grinder, they realised the best option was to first remove the grinder from its housing.

They therefore sawed through the nuts and bolts of the machine. Writhing in pain, Mr Sun Xiao Bo could only wait.

The 27-year-old Chinese national, a factory worker at Leong Hin Foods in Woodlands Loop, was found by his colleagues at 8.25am on Thursday.

The grinder was removed from the housing in 20 minutes, but Mr Sun's forearm was still inside it.

As it was dangerous to remove the arm from the grinder there, Mr Sun was rushed to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and then to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) at about 11am.

How are we doing this?

A Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (Dart) contingent from the SCDF met Mr Sun outside the operating theatre in TTSH.

The team described Mr Sun as very weak, though he was able to speak in Mandarin with their Station Officer-in Charge about removing the grinder.

As medical personnel at TTSH prepared Mr Sun for surgery, the team of Warrant Officer (WO) 2 Ahmad Faizal, WO 1 Jaais, WO2 Md Affino and Sergeant Md Aashiq discussed how they were going to free the hand.

WO2 Ahmad Faizal, who has had experience in similar incidents, shared with the rest what they would have to do and they decided on their respective tasks.

They went into the operating theatre donning surgical outfits for the first time.

Spanners and wrenches

Mr Sun sat partially upright in bed, his trapped arm and the grinder by his side.

WO1 Jaais supported Mr Sun's upper arm, while Sgt Md Aashiq held the grinder in place.

The other two worked on removing the grinder's plate, a perforated disc about the size of a plate used by children, from which ground meat usually comes out.

It came free to reveal about a handful of bloodstained flesh which had to be removed so the Dart members could see inside the grinder.

They saw that the bottom half of Mr Sun's forearm was crushed, with just one or two fingers intact.

There was also the strong smell of fish as Mr Sun had been grinding fish meat.

Next, the team had to figure out how to turn the shaft to free Mr Sun, who had been partially anaesthetised and was sitting with a green cover over his face.

"We could tell he wanted to see what we were doing as the cover constantly flipped. But I think the medical staff stopped him from it," WO2 Ahmad Faizal recounted.

After removing the propeller-shaped cutting blade at the end of the shaft, they tried rotating it clockwise.

But the trapped arm went further in.

All around the shaft were bits of flesh, which the team continuously removed as they worked with spanners and wrenches.

They were rotating the shaft in the other direction when WO1 Jaais suddenly said the arm was coming loose.

At that point, the team felt a sense of relief that intensified when they eventually freed the arm.

Job done, but...

With satisfaction settling in, the Dart team cleaned their tools.

While the operation may have seemed particularly delicate, WO1 Jaais, a member of Dart for 20 years and a rescuer at the 2004 Nicoll Highway collapse, said he has encountered more precarious situations.

Every operation has its complications, he said.

"We were just worried about his hand as we hoped it would not be cut off. We tried our very best there."

Added SGT Md Aashiq: "We felt our job was successfully done. That's what we went in for."

Operation was tough

The tough part was waiting for the Dart officers to free the arm, said Dr James Wee, a hand surgeon who was part of the surgical team.

But when the officers were done, the surgeons looked at Mr Sun Xiao Bo's left arm and they knew.

The hand and wrist was badly crushed and there was simply no chance of recovering any part of the left hand.

The decision to amputate was made by the 15-member surgical team, led by Adjunct Assistant Professor Winston Chew, a senior consultant at the Orthopaedic Surgery (Hand and microsurgery) unit at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

"The left hand, all the way up to just above his wrist, was extensively crushed. We were not able to salvage any of the tissues," he told The New Paper.

Dr James Wee said the left arm was amputated at the middle of the forearm.

The crushed bones were removed and temporary drains were inserted to help drain blood and other fluids.

"There is an option much later for a prosthetic arm. As for the type, we would have to evaluate it together with the patient," Dr Wee added.

Prof Chew said: "Limb injuries from grinders are not common.

Such accidents are severe and devastating to the victims, but we could re-attach the severed parts for many."

Reluctant

In an interview with Chinese evening paper Shin min Daily News hours after his operation, Mr Sun revealed that when the doctors told him they needed to amputate, he was reluctant to let them and asked to have "a last look at his hand".

"When I saw what was left of it, I reluctantly agreed (to the amputation)," he said.

Recounting that fateful morning, Mr Sun said he had been making cuttlefish balls when an ink sac fell into the machine.

He remembered turning off the power to retrieve the sac, but "the machine suddenly started again and my left hand was twisted into the blade".

"I knew then that was the end of my hand," he said.


Get The New Paper for more stories.