Shawn Bull wasn’t expected to survive his horrific injury.
Instead, he defied the odds.
“Ellington public workers saved my dad’s life, along with the ambulance department, Life Star, and all the surgeons and nurses at Baystate Medical Center. I cannot thank everyone enough,” wrote Ashley Bull in a Facebook post the day after the accident.
On the Brink of Death
Bull’s life-threatening ordeal began after lunch on what otherwise had been a very normal day in June. He, along with three other Ellington Public Works employees, were out working on a job for the town when the unthinkable happened. The gas-powered chop saw he was using to cut a riser for a catch basin suddenly and unexpectedly kicked back cutting his throat and severing his carotid artery and jugular vein.
“All I can remember is grabbing my throat and seeing all this purple-colored blood shooting out in front of me, then falling backward and passing out, but not before seeing my deceased mother’s face appear in front of my eyes. Everyone keeps asking me about divine intervention, and I believe something happened that day,” Bull said.
It is in situations like this that seconds and minutes count in surviving traumatic events. Patients can die in as little as 2-3 minutes without immediate interventions, and more than a half million lives are lost each year in the United States due to bleeding injuries.
Stop the Bleed
It is Bull’s co-workers who are credited with initially saving his life. They called 911 and immediately began putting pressure on the deep wound and packing it with their t-shirts, so as to try to stop the bleed and keep Bull alive until paramedics arrived.
“I can’t thank my co-workers enough. In my eyes, they can do no wrong,” Bull said.
Bull was transported by ambulance to Ellington Airport where Life Star had landed, and in minutes they were back in the air flying their patient to the nearest Level I Trauma Center located at Baystate Medical Center. They touched down on the hospital’s helipad 11 minutes later. Then it took less than two minutes to wheel Bull from the helipad to the elevator to the trauma bay, where he received immediate life-saving care.
One of the Worst Cases Ever
“I can honestly tell you that this was one of the worst cases I have ever seen,” said trauma surgeon Dr. Reginald Alouidor.
When Bull arrived his blood pressure was dangerously low and he was in hemorrhagic shock, which occurs when you lose 20 percent or more of your total blood volume. Dr. Alouidor was able to stabilize him – he needed 10 units of blood – and get him to the operating room in minutes, where vascular surgeon Dr. Marvin Morris was waiting for him.
“I have performed many operations involving the carotid artery, but this type of injury involving a transection of both the jugular vein and carotid artery is a rare and potentially lethal injury,” said Dr. Morris, who needed to use a prosthetic graft to repair the artery.
It Was Scary
When Bull woke up hours later in Baystate’s Intensive Care Unit, he said “it was a little scary.”
“I had to communicate with my nurse by writing on a notepad because I was intubated due to the swelling to my neck. My eyes were nearly swollen shut, too, because of the swelling to my face. I remember the first thing that Kayla asked me was to move my fingers and toes, which I did. She was a very good nurse and soothing given my situation. The care I received was 10 out of 10,” he said about his four-day stay in the hospital.
Speaking with a faint but distinguishable voice and left with nerve damage, which impairs movement of his left arm, Bull is expected to undergo two additional surgeries. One of those operations will be on his voice box and the other to repair the nerve damage to his trapezius muscle that aids in the movement of the neck, shoulders, and arms. He hopes to be able to return to work after the holidays and start 2020 on a high note.
My Kids Don't Listen
“My speech is currently at 40 percent, and doctors tell me the operation could restore 60 to 70 percent of my voice. But I can deal with it, it’s not that bad. My kids don’t listen. I try to talk to them and they walk right by anyway,” he joked about his voice.
Bull recently had an ultrasound at the hospital to check the blood flow in his neck and “everything seems to be on track,” noted the Vernon, CT, resident.
“I’m just so very grateful for my outcome. You have wonderful people at Baystate who do a great job….and others may not say it often enough. But, I do, I appreciate what was done to save my life,” he said.
Hartford HealthCare, Air Methods and Baystate Health entered into a partnership last year that brought life-saving Life Star air ambulance services to western Massachusetts with a helicopter based at Westfield-Barnes Airport. Patients who need air ambulance service are those suffering from medical emergencies and traumas that require timely transport to tertiary care centers. In situations like a stroke or major blood loss, every minute matters – and rapid air transportation can make all the difference in survival and recovery.
Stop the Bleed Classes
Life Star paramedic Brendon Colt, who was part of the crew the day of Bull’s injury, pointed out how important it is today to know how to “stop the bleed” just as many people are trained in CPR. Baystate Medical Center offers a free “Stop the Bleed” class to help in a bleeding emergency before professional help arrives. For information on future classes, email Ida Konderwicz at Ida.Konderwicz@baystatehealth.org.