By Jessica Sly, Communications Specialist
The date was Feb. 6, 2017. Carpenter Leland Elgin was hard at work cutting a piece of flooring on a table saw. Just as he reached the end, the piece kicked back toward the blade, taking his left hand with it. His thumb and three fingers were severed.
“I looked at my hand and everything was just dangling there,” he recalled. “I must’ve gone into shock right away because I just kept on walking right to the ambulance and got in.”
The emergency department physician at TCHC determined that Leland needed extensive surgical intervention, so he was airlifted to North Memorial in the Cities. A nearly 10-hour surgery connected Leland’s digits back to his hand, transferring veins and nerves from other parts of his body to restore feeling in his fingers.
“It’s unreal what they can do,” he said. Unfortunately, his index finger was too damaged and couldn’t be saved.
Within the first month and a half following his accident, Leland had six surgeries, and then he was ready to start physical therapy.
Because Leland lives near Bertha and Eagle Bend, he chose rehabilitation at TCHC’s Bertha Physical Therapy Clinic with Travis Rasinski, DPT. They started with mobilization in his fingers to loosen the scar tissue and kept his hand wrapped to reduce swelling.
“They wanted to get it limbered up because everything was stiff. Nothing worked,” Leland said. “When we first started, Travis was just trying to get everything moving. It’s kind of weird because you can hear it breaking loose every so often, but Travis loves it.”
Travis worked manually with each finger and coached Leland through exercises such as picking up objects, turning keys and working with weights.
After three months, Leland returned to work. It helped to keep him occupied, as well as contributed to the healing process. “I was going crazy sitting at home,” he said. “At first, it was a little tough. It seemed like a lot harder work. It’s just overcompensating for what you can’t do with that hand and figuring out different ways to do things. You get used to it.”
A surgery scheduled in September was meant to connect Leland’s tendons to return independent movement to his fingers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful.
Leland resumed physical therapy, where Travis used ultrasound to soften the new scar tissue and worked to loosen the joints in each finger. He also stabilized Leland’s right shoulder to compensate for the extra use.
After months of work, they restored the movement in his elbow and wrist and got some range of motion back in his first knuckles. However, his grip strength and functional capacity will never go back to normal.
“It’s a unique case for sure. You forget what you take for granted,” Travis said. “Leland’s a highly motivated, hard-working patient.”
Leland credits his incredible surgeons and Travis’ hard work with getting him to where he is today in terms of functionality.
It’s been almost exactly a year since the accident, and throughout that time, Leland has experienced a range of triumphs and setbacks, both physically and emotionally. But he’s not letting it keep him down.
“At first I kinda thought, ‘Oh, great.’ Then I realized it is what it is, and I’ve just got to do the best I can with it,” he said, and he had the same message for others who may be experiencing physical difficulties. “Push as hard as you can. Do as much as you can do. Something will come around. Something will work out. It’s just figuring out different ways to do it.”
About the Author: Jessica Sly has been working as a communication specialist at TCHC since May 2017. A Wadena native, she graduated from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul in 2012 with a degree in English with a writing concentration. She is a word nerd, lover of all things Disney, self-proclaimed crazy cat lady and devoted Minnesota Vikings fan (SKOL).