A day of outdoor fun turned to horror when Tyler Hughes’ side-by-side (SxS) utility terrain vehicle turned over. The roll bar – an intended safety feature – landed on the 13-year-old’s left arm, severing the limb above his elbow.
Tyler, of Clemmons, was driving his family’s SxS – a vehicle between the size of an ATV and a mini SUV – with two neighborhood friends, while his mom, Crystal Hughes, and younger brother played down the street in the snow this past January.
“Tyler’s friends started screaming that he had broken his arm,” said Crystal. “I got to him as fast as I could and I knew this wasn’t just a broken arm. The lower part of his arm was too far away from his body.”
The heavy-duty work jacket he was wearing kept him from seeing the large blood loss and the severity of his injury. Thinking quickly, Crystal tied her scarf around her son’s arm, which prevented life-threatening blood loss. She also didn’t let her son know the extent of his injury in hopes of keeping him calm.
“It was a complete out-of-body experience while we were waiting for EMS to arrive,” said Crystal. “At the time, I didn’t even realize my decision to use the scarf as a tourniquet was so crucial – I was on auto-pilot.”
After EMS arrived, AirCare was called and Tyler was airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center where he underwent a nine-and-a-half hour surgery to reattach his arm.
“Tyler’s surgery required a multidisciplinary team effort between our vascular and orthopaedic hand teams,” said Matthew Goldman, M.D., assistant professor of vascular surgery at Wake Forest Baptist. “For an injury that traumatic, a patient requires quick and specialized care from a broad range of providers and his success thus far has been a testament to that care.”
Goldman said even though Tyler’s arm was crushed and mangled from the roll bar, the major nerve supply to the arm was still intact, which allowed Goldman’s team to successfully reconstruct the blood supply while the orthopaedic surgeons fixed the broken bones.
“An injury like Tyler’s can be devastating and it often can take years for the nerves to grow back and regenerate,” said Goldman. “At this point, we are still uncertain as to what his long-term functional outcome will be; however, by all of our teams acting quickly, we were able to give him the potential to have a functional arm in the future.”
Since the accident, Tyler has undergone six surgeries and the rising high school freshman is now able to grip various items such as door handles and lightweight bags. He currently undergoes therapy once a week and consistently regains increased sensation in his left arm.
Crystal said she and her family stay positive despite knowing it will likely take years to ultimately tell how much Tyler will be able to use his arm.
She also stresses the importance of staying calm and applying pressure to stop uncontrollable bleeding when a traumatic injury has occurred. Crystal, who has no medical training, said her hope is for others to hear her son’s story and learn the importance of stopping a bleed when minutes matter most.
“I’ll never forget Dr. Goldman walking out and telling our family that not only had they saved my son’s life, they also were able to save his arm,” said Crystal. “They did it, it’s on there, and it’s working. We are just so blessed and forever grateful for Tyler’s care and my hope is to share his story and that it can help someone, someday, somehow.”
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