Princeton Union Eagle
It was October 13, 2010. The sun was shining, the smell of autumn leaves filled the air and Isanti Fire Chief Randy Polzin was enjoying a day off from the force, working on the farm in North Branch Township.
Polzin isn’t a stranger to farm work and farm machinery, as he has been on a farm most of his life.
But that Wednesday afternoon something happened that had never before happened to Polzin. His sleeve got caught in the corn picker and it pulled his arm right in. His left forearm and hand became compressed in the pinch rollers.
Luckily Polzin was able to get a near-by friend on the cellphone to come back to the scene and help him. His second call was to get the North Memorial Air Care helicopter on its way.
Polzin shared his story during a North Memorial Air Care training event held April 14 in Princeton.
Air Care received the call “man with arm trapped in machinery” at 3:45 p.m. and responded within minutes. The flight took 23 minutes and by the time the helicopter had arrived, the ground ambulance crew had succeeded in freeing Polzin’s arm from the corn picker.
“It took quite awhile to get me out,” Polzin recalls. “They [rescuers] wanted to gut it [the corn picker] apart but I was like no, no, no. This thing is older than dirt. It’s hard to find parts.”
The ground crew had IVs in place when the helicopter arrived and Polzin, although in extreme pain, walked to the helicopter to be transported to North Memorial. The air care crew bandaged his forearm puncture and splinted the arm.
When asked why North Memorial, Polzin responded, “you go where they’re good at what they do. North Memorial has lots of experience putting back limbs.”
Polzin was referring to the February 1992 incident with John Thompson, an 18-year-old man who had both arms successfully reattached at North Memorial after they were torn off in a farm accident.
Polzin and the air care crew arrived at North Memorial 50 minutes after the accident occurred.
Although at first glance, Polzin’s injury did not look to be too bad, it was. He had a compartment syndrome.
Compartment syndrome is a condition where pressure is increased in a muscle compartment. It can cause severe damage to muscles and nerves as well as cause problems with blood flow.
Fascia, thick layers of tissue that separate groups of muscles in the arms and legs, surround compartments filled with muscle tissue, nerves and blood vessels, acting like a sort of insulation.
Fascia cannot expand and any swelling inside these compartments will cause pressure to increase and press on the muscle tissue, nerves and blood vessels located inside these compartments. If the pressure is high enough, blood flow will become blocked. If the pressure lasts long enough, the muscles could die and the limb may need to be amputated.
Polzin was taken into surgery to release the pressure and save his arm.
To relieve the pressure, long surgical cuts were made into the fascia and then the wound was left open, although covered with sterile dressing, until the pressure had gone down. Next the surgical staff closed the wound using skin grafts.
A skin graft is a procedure that takes healthy skin from one area of the body, usually the top two layers, and then transplants it to the bare area. The new skin is kept in place by either gentle pressure from dressing bandages, staples or small stitches.
To close Polzin’s wound, a 4 inch by 13 inch of skin was taken from the front of his leg and transplanted on his forearm.
North Memorial was able to successfully complete the surgery and save both Polzin’s arm and hand. And he only lost two days of work during his stay at the hospital.
Over the next six months, Polzin underwent physical therapy and regular checkups as his arm healed.
“It was sore for a long time,” he admits.
Polzin, who has often been on the rescue response end of an accident, said it was definitely different to see things from the victim’s point of view.
“As a rescuer, you have a job to do. That job involves saving people’s lives and caring for their injuries to the best of your abilities. It’s often a thankless job, but you come to expect that,” Polzin said.
If someone hadn’t recognized that he had a compartment syndrome and if the helicopter hadn’t taken him to North Memorial as quickly as it did, Polzin most likely would have lost his arm.
Six months after the accident, Polzin has almost full use of his arm and hand.
As a victim and a patient, you realize how much your rescuers really do to save not only your life, but to ensure a successful recovery.
“No one ever says thank you,” Polzin said. “I’m saying thank you.”