Retired Rock Island Arsenal engineer, Daniel Hanson, Moline, Ill., is a man whose life’s resume is filled with achievements indicative of someone used to setting high goals: completion of a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Illinois. The attainment of a PhD at the University of Iowa in engineering. His resolve in 2015 to train and complete an Ironman triathlon. (To be an ironman, one only needs to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a marathon, all in the same day.)
So as a natural overachiever, doing a little “light” carpentry work for his family would be a no-brainer. Awesome treehouse for his grandson, Jackson. Rebuilding a backyard deck for his daughter’s new home would not normally be a problem, that is until an understandably brief second of distraction resulted in nearly sheering off his thumb.
Construction accident leads to surgery
“I remember, I was cutting an extra thick piece of wood for the deck, listening to music, and running the board through a circular saw,” he recalls.
“I didn’t feel anything at first, until the saw hit the bone and my hand jerked back. I just wasn’t paying any attention, even though I have always been particularly careful around power tools. When I looked down, the tip of my thumb above the first knuckle was hanging by about an eighth of an inch.”
Not one to panic, Daniel says he put his thumb in a cup of ice and drove to the ER, praying that its tip could be reattached. In what his doctor would call a stroke of good luck, the orthopedic physician on call was Hand Surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Winston, ORA Orthopedics.
“It was a Saturday and I was on rotation for ER,” recalls Dr. Winston. “I’ve seen patients with crushed, severed, or badly damaged fingers. I knew there was a chance we could save Daniel’s thumb, but I was concerned about the lack of blood supply to its nearly severed tip.”
Daniel’s own background in precise engineering principles and his lifelong, extraordinary effort to maintain a standard of excellence prepared him to fully appreciate and recognize a master craftsman when he saw one.
“What I remember the most while being prepared for surgery was looking over and seeing Dr. Winston in profile, backlit and focused on the computer preparing for my surgery. He was confident and all business. My hand, my thumb, actually, was now in his hands. It was his quiet assurance and methodical approach that really gave me the confidence to know he was going to do his best.”
“In surgery, I cleaned Daniel’s open fracture and it was pretty severe,” says Dr. Winston.
“To reattach the tip, I stabilized his thumb with pins. Hand surgeries can be challenging — the soft tissue is delicate; the bones are tiny. A hand is balanced by both flexors and extensors that allow people to do amazing things. However, there are times when a finger is damaged beyond repair and that amputation is the better option. In Daniel’s case, it was worth a try so he would be able to use his hand to pinch and resume his carpentry.”
The surgery took about an hour, and Daniel says he was relieved to learn Dr. Winston was able to reattach his thumb: one hurdle down, another to go. “He told me I had a chance that my thumb might heal if the tissue could regrow. We both crossed our fingers!”
Recovery after surgery
Daniel went home in a cast and for the next several weeks, underwent occupational therapy. When Dr. Winston removed the bandages, Daniel remembers, “I was afraid to look, but it wasn’t too bad. He had saved my thumb tip and part of my nail. He saw new skin growing and smiled.”
Circulation had been restored and Daniel’s body was doing its own amazing bit of handiwork, rebuilding and growing new tissue. As a self-described Christian, he credits his healing as miraculous. And, it’s not lost on Daniel that he not only shares a love of carpentry with his heavenly Savior, but his earthly one as well.
“Oh, I am not even close to the skill level of Daniel,” answers Dr. Winston. “I enjoy fixing things around the house,” he smiled. “We’ll leave the tree house construction to Daniel.”