Adventurous teen nearly cuts off fingers

June 01, 2010

Surgeon restores teen’s fingers after machete accident

Jacob Cooper lives for the outdoors. When the 18-year-old isn’t in school, he’s hunting, fishing, riding a four-wheeler or working. Even his part-time job — assembling and servicing motorcycles, four wheelers and jet skies — helps others enjoy being outdoors.

Considering Jacob nearly lost complete use of his fingers, the fact that he still can thread a spark plug is a miracle. Surgeons at Children’s Medical Center, the only pediatric hospital in North Texas with two orthopedic trauma hand surgeons, saved Jacob’s hand.

Cooper’s hand slides over blade

On a lazy summer afternoon, Jacob and his friend decided to go exploring in the brush near Jacob’s Paris, Texas, home. The boys were using a machete to help them clear a trail. While on the excursion, Jacob tripped and fell. The knife hit the ground, and Jacob’s hand slipped off the handle, gliding down the sharp edge of the blade.

“I felt a pain so bad I can’t describe it,” Jacob said. “I held up my hand and my fingers were lying backwards.”

Doctors at a local hospital took one look at Jacob’s hand and knew he needed to be at Children’s. Jacob was airlifted to Children’s.

Hand surgeon saves teen’s fingers

“Three of Jacob’s fingers nearly had to be amputated,” said Dr. Christine Ho, a pediatric orthopedic specialist at Children’s. “Jacob had deep lacerations over the joints of his third, fourth and fifth fingers that cut all his tendons and nerves to his fingers. The machete cut through six tendons and six nerves as well as the capsule to his joints. His injury was in the top one-third of severity.”

Because Children’s is a Level 1 Trauma Center, most of Dr. Ho’s patients involve traumatic injuries. She also treats congenital and acquired problems.

Hand therapist helps restore function

Dr. Ho washed out his joint and bone and repaired the joint capsules and tendons. Jacob’s nerves, the most delicate part, were restored last under a microscope. The surgery was successful, but Jacob’s healing process had just begun. The most significant risk for this type of hand surgery comes after the procedure.

Ann Garvin, a certified hand therapist (CHT) at Children’s, taught Jacob techniques to get him back to writing with his dominant hand and using it for basic functions such as holding a toothbrush, gripping a glass of milk and driving a car.

Most hospitals have occupational therapists, but few have CHTs, who have advanced education in treating hand disorders and are certified by the American Society of Hand Therapists.

After surgery, it didn’t take long before Jacob’s hand was fully functional.

“Jacob is back to doing what he loves. He can’t be slowed down,” said Amanda Cooper, Jacob’s mom.

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