STONY BROOK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A 53-year-old Staten Island man raised his thumb into the air Wednesday – an act just two weeks ago that he thought would be impossible ever to accomplish again.
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, sheet metal mechanic Kenneth Klapak was honoring a team of Long Island doctors who saved him from losing his hands after a horrible accident.
Klapak was about to mold a piece of metal on a machine he’s used thousands of times at his North Babylon shop on May 16 when something went terribly wrong, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
“I was unclear how the accident happened, but seconds later I saw my hands hanging by threads, threads of flesh,” he said.
Klapak’s arms were entangled in the machine.
“It happened, literally, in a split second it was over,” he said.
He was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, where doctors had little time. Hand surgeon Dr. Jason Ganz said Klapak’s hands were completely severed with the exception of the flexor tendons, which bend the fingers.
Everything else had to be reattached in under six hours — the small window in which severed hands can survive. Two surgical teams worked side-by-side.
“We were able to work simultaneously on both hands, reconnecting arteries, bones, nerves, tendons,” said Dr. Mark Epstein.
Initially, amputations seemed inevitable. Ganz said it took two teams eight hours of microsurgery to repair both hands.
“I am truly rich man and truly blessed,” Klapak said. “I hit Lotto. I am a rich man.”
On Tuesday, Klapak got to offer his hand to the doctors who saved both of his.
“The day after the surgery he was moving his pointers, but now to see him move all his fingers? It’s absolutely amazing,” said his wife, Kimberly Klapak.
Ganz said such efforts are part of his job.
“This is why I became a doctor — the concept of putting people back together when they are broken,” he said.
Klapak not only works with his hands, but he also plays guitar. Doctors said he will regain his sense of touch, and he plans to make music again.
“What I have here is an ongoing miracle,” Klapak said. “I have a lot of drive and determination. If I can only play basics, I will play music. I will play again.”
As unusual as a double hand reattachment surgery is, doctors at Stony Brook University Hospital performed it eight years ago and that patient is driving and using a cell phone. They said Klapak’s prognosis is as positive as his outlook.
And Klapak said he feels pain in his hands, which is surprisingly a good sign. Pain means the nerves are regenerating.
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