UAB surgical team performs in-field amputation

New information on storm victim's leg amputation

FULTONDALE, Ala. (WBRC) - Arnoldo Vasquez-Hernandez lost his leg trying to shelter his children during last week’s deadly tornado. A tree fell through his home, pinning him to floor, and the only way doctors could save him was to amputate his leg.

It was a Vestavia Hills Fire Fighter and Paramedic who was on the scene that night in Fultondale and saw the situation. He then reached out to UAB Trauma Surgeon, Dr. Don Reiff.

“He reached out to gain some information about what to do with the tourniquet if they were able to extradite the patient from the scene. Then he called back, indicating that they weren’t going to be able to get him out from underneath the tree, that he was trapped and that we’d probably have to do an in-field amputation,” Dr. Reiff explained.

He then called his colleague who was at the hospital, Dr. Blayke Gibson, to get the surgical supplies and equipment ready.

They came up with a plan over the phone, and a four-person team of UAB surgeons and nurses responded to the requests to free Vasquez-Hernandez, trapped in his home by the fallen tree.

“Dr. Reiff felt like he could do the procedure, and so at that point, I began to manage the patient’s airway and make sure he was appropriately sedated so that he was as pain free as possible,” Dr. Gibson said.

But it was a pair of UAB nurses stationed in Gardendale who got to the scene first, transporting blood, and prepared the area for the procedure, while firefighters used struts to keep the ceiling from collapsing around them.

“Myself, India and some of the other fire crews were down in the basement and the patient was kind of laying with his head like right at the top of the stairs going down into the basement. Dr. Reiff was upstairs and so one of the gentleman who was in charge of the scene kept telling us that the building’s shifting…it’s shifting …we’re getting some extra cracks,” explained RN in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UAB, Sherichia Hardy.

“It was a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotion, but all of us knew that if anybody could do it, Dr. Gibson and Dr. Reiff could,” Hardy said.

Dr. Reiff and Dr. Gibson said they had never done anything like this out in the field before. They say the actual procedure took about 10 minutes.

Doctors said Mr. Vasquez-Hernandez is still recovering at the hospital but is doing well. He will soon be fitted with a prosthesis.

This family lost everything in last week’s storms. If you’d like to help, visit their GoFundMe.

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