In a horrific moment that changed his life forever, Kenneth Klapak accidentally caught both hands in a large piece of machinery at a North Babylon sheet metal factory, slicing through both wrists and leaving them hanging by a thread of tissue.
"I was in incredible pain," recalled Klapak, 53, about the industrial accident two weeks ago. "I felt my hands were on fire."
With both hands now reattached and covered in heavy bandages, the worker Wednesday joined his team of surgeons at Stony Brook University Hospital to recount how he managed to survive his grueling injuries. He was flown by helicopter to the hospital, where doctors were able quickly to rejoin the cut veins, arteries and tendons in both hands in what Klapak called "an ongoing miracle."
Stony Brook treats about 20 people a year for severed individual limbs and body parts. However, hospital officials said Klapak's double hand procedure was rare, a circumstance not seen by the hospital's emergency and operating teams since 2005. Using microscopic devices and other high-tech equipment, Stony Brook doctors saved Klapak's hands.
"This is why I became a doctor -- putting people back together when they are broken," said Dr. Jason Ganz, a hand surgeon who was part of the team who operated on Klapak, at the news conference.
Klapak said he was working May 16 at Anron Sheet Metal Corp. when his hands were caught in large machinery that bends galvanized sheets of metal commonly used in air-conditioning vents. Klapak, who lives in Staten Island but grew up in North Babylon, said he worked at the firm for about 12 years. An Anron official later reached by telephone declined to comment about the case.
Faced with a rapid loss of blood to the patient, Ganz said Klapak was rushed by the hospital's emergency team into the operating room, where hand experts and plastic surgeons reconnected both hands. Ganz said the hands were sharply cut -- rather than crushed as is often the case in other industrial accidents -- which allowed the blood flow to Klapak's hands to be restored. After about two hours on the operating table, Ganz said, "the hands turn pink again."
At times near tears as his family stood nearby, Klapak told reporters he was grateful for rapid response by emergency and surgical teams that saved his life and limbs. "I was scared," he said of his workplace accident. "I'm not a hero."
He said he had played guitar for many years and hoped to do so again. "I'm told the prognosis isn't good but I will work very hard to get back to normal."Sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a light blue T-shirt with a Superman-like figure on it, Klapak raised his thumbs up, peeking through his heavy bandages, as a sign of his intent to recover fully someday.