Quick Thinking, Dramatic Rescue, And Harborview Surgeons Save Man's Hand

Quick Thinking, Dramatic Rescue, And Harborview Surgeons Save Man's Hand
SEATTLE - Quick thinking, a dramatic rescue at sea, and Harborview surgeons have saved a Federal Way man's hand.

It's a rare medical rescue because it took more than 24 hours to get the man from the Bering Sea into surgery.

"Oh it's coming alright, see it's moving."

Patrick Laulu is talking about the movement of his right thumb and fingers. It's slight, but the meaning is huge. It means Laulu is defying the odds after a harrowing accident and rescue.

It started last Thursday aboard the fishing trawler Alaska Juris. Laulu, a native Samoan, was cutting the heads off mackerel with a motorized table saw.

The Bering Sea was not cooperating.

"It's really rough, really rough," says Laulu. "There's big waves coming at that time, and we feel the boat and the boat moving so fast."

Laulu says he reached to grab a tool when the boat surged and his hand went through the table saw, severing the hand just above the wrist.

Laulu says a crewman standing next to him sent out the alarm: "He says 'Heeyyyyy! It's an accident' and I see - I saw my hand, it's gone. It's no hand."

But Laulu was lucky, his crewmates wrapped his hand and put it on ice in the fish cooler, keeping the damage to a minimum.

"They did absolutely everything that they could for him in the field," says Dr. Loryn Weinstein, one of two orthopedic surgeons who worked to save Laulu's hand.

The Coast Guard sent a rescue helicopter, but the Alaska Juris was so far at sea it took more than 24 hours to whisk Laulu and his hand into surgery.

Record Time Wait

Harborview has reattached limbs before, but, never after more than 24 hours of separation.

The problem is that muscles begin to die, poisoning the patients system.

"The biggest thing that they did to help him out," says Dr. Weinstein, "was to keep his hand well-preserved on ice."

It will be a week before doctors will know if they've saved Laulu's hand, and it's unlikely he'll regain full use of it.

Still, the little bit of movement in Laulu's fingers tells him he's a lucky man. "I glad to give thanks to those guys for doing a good job for me," he said.

This was Laulu's second fishing trip. He was working to send money back to his parents in Samoa. He expects to return to fishing if he regains enough movement in his hand.