HARTFORD, Conn. -- Jonathan Metz had been trapped for two days in his basement with his left arm stuck in a broken furnace. Smelling rotting flesh, he decided that amputation was his only hope.
So the 31-year-old fashioned a tourniquet near his shoulder and
began cutting. He made it almost all the way through, but wasn't
able to free himself.
basement when worried friends called police, and firefighters cut
the furnace apart.
Doctors gave the account of Metz's harrowing experience at a
news conference Thursday. They said the attempted self-amputation
probably saved his life, preventing the infection in his gangrenous
arm from spreading to the rest of his body.
"There was a little bit of fat that remained and he was in and
out of consciousness," said Dr. Scott Ellner, Metz' surgeon at
Hartford's Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center. "It sounds
like maybe there was a nerve there that prevented him from
completing the amputation."
Metz, who lives alone, had been working to replace the boiler
fins on his furnace Sunday when his arm became trapped, officials
A friend, Luca DiGregorio, told reporters Wednesday that he and
other friends grew worried when Metz did not show up for work and
missed a Tuesday night softball game.
Metz also did not answer the doorbell when DiGregorio stopped at
his home Wednesday, where he said he saw Metz's beagle, Porsche,
"yipping at the back door." DiGregorio called police, who found
Metz in the basement.
"I was a little worried, especially when the first cop showed
up," DiGregorio said. "Then more showed up, and then the
ambulance showed up, so it got a little nerve-racking."
Firefighters ripped apart the furnace with heavy tools,
including a spreader normally used to take the door off a car, West
Hartford Fire Chief Matt Stuart said.
Once they did so, the arm "just gave away, because his arm was
already infected and the tissue was nonviable," Ellner said.
Officials didn't know what type of tools Metz used to attempt
the amputation. He was mumbling during the rescue operation,
Ellner said Metz drank some of the water that had leaked from
the furnace to help him stay alive.
Dr. David Shapiro, a trauma specialist who also worked on Metz,
said he could not have lived much longer.
"I've never experienced somebody who had the ability to go
through something like this," Ellner said. "He provides a lot of
inspiration for myself, not just as a physician but as a human
Shapiro said Metz was not out of the woods. Infection remained a
concern, but Metz was expected to survive. He will have to undergo
more surgery to prepare the arm for a prosthetic, Ellner said. That
will involve removing more tissue that may not be healthy, and then
grafting skin and muscle onto the remaining bone, he said.
"We basically told him that he's going to go back to doing the
things he did before, his athletics, his woodworking, his job," he
Metz's family lives in North Carolina and were en route to the
hospital on Thursday, the doctors said.
Neighbors describe Metz as a quiet, friendly man who helps them
shovel out from storms. They said they were caring for his dog
until he comes home and were visiting him in the hospital.
His case evoked memories of Colorado climber Aron Ralston, who
cut off his arm with a dull blade after getting trapped under a
boulder in a remote Utah canyon in 2003.
He twisted his arm against a rock to break the bones, cut
through his flesh, then wrapped the stump in a makeshift sling.
Then, he rappelled down a 60-foot drop and hiked six miles through
the desert for help.
Later that year, an Australian miner amputated his arm below the
elbow with a short-bladed craft knife when he was pinned under an
overturned tractor carrying more than three tons of limestone dust.