A California foundry worker who underwent a double-leg amputation on the job after being caught in a screw conveyor in August 2017 was recently reunited with the emergency team that helped extricate the man from the machinery and save his life.
According to the University of Southern California News, Hector Ruiz had climbed into a confined space to unjam a screw conveyor at the Alhambra iron foundry where he worked. He had finished the job but crawled back into the space to retrieve a tool. At the same time, another worker powered on the machine.
“It was too late”
Mr. Ruiz told USC News he started screaming, “but it was too late.” The revolving augur screw gripped his legs and entangled them in the apparatus. When firefighters who responded to the accident were unable to free him from the machine, they called on the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center Hospital Emergency Response Team (HERT), which was formed to respond to job-site amputations and other on-site emergencies.
The HERT team arrives
“The team is designed for situations exactly like this,” Elizabeth Benjamin, assistant USC professor of clinical surgery, told USC News. “When the pre-hospital team is unable to extricate a patient, the HERT team is designed to bring a piece of the operating room into the field to provide medical assistance and perform amputations if necessary.
The HERT team has everything ready to go when needed and it follows an emergency protocol to ensure it reaches victims in the shortest time possible.”
Dark, dusty, hot, and cramped
The small team arrived at the Alhambra Foundry to find Mr. Ruiz caught up in an extremely small space with no room to work with the medical equipment they brought to perform the amputation. Only one person could enter the space, which was also dark, full of black dust, and extremely hot.
Dr. Benjamin, who is also a trauma surgeon, entered the space and told Mr. Ruiz both his legs would have to undergo amputation.
The team formed a line to pass medical equipment through to Dr. Benjamin, who first applied tourniquets to Mr. Ruiz’s legs and then administered an anesthetic. According to earlier reports of the accident, the space in which Mr. Ruiz was entangled was only accessible through a 20-inch opening.
According to USC News,
Because the screw was surrounded by a metal chamber, it was difficult for the team to get to Ruiz’s legs. The fire crew managed to reverse the screw a bit to give the HERT team room to work, but it was still unable to use its usual instruments to perform the amputation.
This meant Dr. Benjamin had to improvise. Instead of using proper medical equipment to perform the amputation, she used a construction saw at the site. Mr. Ruiz was anesthetized throughout the amputation procedure, but Dr. Benjamin told USC News he remained “incredibly calm” throughout the process.
“I can’t imagine what he went through mentally. He is a remarkable human being,” Dr. Benjamin told USC News. She also said the teamwork “was nothing short of amazing.”
Amputation completed, Mr. Ruiz was pulled through the chamber by the line of medical professionals and taken by ambulance to USC Medical Center. He went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance but was revived by CPR and intubation. The doctors and nurses at USC were prepared to receive Mr. Ruiz and rushed him into surgery.
Mr. Ruiz now wears prostheses and is learning how to walk again with his new legs. He was picked to speak about his experience and recovery at the division of Trauma, Emergency Surgery, and Surgical Critical Care’s annual reunion for trauma survivors.
Trauma, Emergency Surgery, and Surgical Critical Care holds a reunion for trauma survivors every spring.
Cal/OSHA, the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, penalized Alhambra Foundry more than $283,000 for the accident and the safety violations that allowed it to happen.