TODAY   |  August 25, 2010

New arm, new lease on life for self-amputee

Jonathan Metz, the man who attempted self amputation after being stuck for days under his basement boiler, tells TODAY’s Matt Lauer that the technology of his new prosthetic arm is “pretty astonishing” and reveals his wedding plans.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MATT LAUER, co-host: And we're back now at 8:12 with TODAY'S UPDATE . In June we brought you the story of Jon Metz , the 31-year-old man who made an agonizing decision to cut off his own arm after getting it stuck in his basement furnace. We're going to talk to Jon in a moment and get an update. But first, a look back at his incredible story. It was late in the evening on June 7th when Jon Metz went down to his basement to do some routine maintenance on his boiler. While cleaning out the soot between the boiler's fins, he reached inside to retrieve a tool he had dropped. His left arm got stuck between his shoulder and elbow. When you realized, 'Wait a minute, I can't get my arm out of here,' what's going through your mind?

Mr. JON METZ (Attempted to Amputate His Arm Trapped in Furnace): Panic is -- it doesn't quite convey what was going through my mind. Terror I think maybe would be a better word because I could see what was happening and the blood dripping down into the heating box.

LAUER: Bleeding badly, Jon screamed for help, but his screams went unanswered. And 12 hours into his ordeal, infection started to set in.

Mr. METZ: As much as I didn't want to look at it, it is what I needed to see to move on to kind of the next phase of the plan.

LAUER: Looking around the basement, Jon thought, what would MacGyver do? He made the painful decision to try to cut his arm free, using his own saw blades.

Mr. METZ: I was so convinced that I was going to die that I began actually -- and the blood splattered on the boiler -- trying to write a note to my family and my fiancee.

LAUER: Jon drifted in and out of consciousness and drank boiler water to try to stay alive.

Mr. METZ: I tried cutting a little bit more , hit another nerve and again a lightning boltlike pain and that's when I just said, 'I can't do it. I can't finish this cut.'

LAUER: After three days trapped in his basement, his friend, Luca DiGregorio , stopped by the house, and when Jon didn't answer the door, he called 911.

Mr. LUCA DiGREGORIO: I'm standing outside my friend's house. We -- no one's heard from him for a couple of days.

LAUER: Police and fire crews arrived at the house and using heavy tools freed Jon 's arm from the boiler. Jon 's doctor said his courageous decision to try to cut off his own arm actually saved his life.

Unidentified Man: What we want to do is get you using this.

LAUER: Two months after his accident, Jon has been fitted with a new prosthetic arm . He's learning to use his new left hand , and even back to work in his basement workshop. Jon Metz is here along with his doctor, Scott Ellner , from the St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center . Good morning to both of you. Good to see you.

Dr. SCOTT ELLNER: Good morning.

Mr. METZ: Good morning.

LAUER: How you doing?

Mr. METZ: I'm doing well.

LAUER: Yeah?

Mr. METZ: Yeah.

LAUER: You got this new arm, a new prosthetic arm , and you were showing it off to me a little bit a second ago. You've only had it a week, right?

Mr. METZ: Yeah, more or less in the final kind of configuration, yeah. It's been about a week.

LAUER: How you -- how you doing with the controlling of it?

Mr. METZ: Well, it's -- pretty good. I think the technology is just astonishing and, you know, to think about less than three months ago not even having an arm at all and now, you know, here I am. It's just fantastic. I can't describe how much it means.

LAUER: He's making great progress, isn't he?

Dr. ELLNER: Absolutely. You know, for somebody who went through such a terrible ordeal, to respond within three months he's done incredibly well. And using his arm already to woodwork and he's going to go back to work shortly back at his original job.

LAUER: One of the things that I remember from our interview a few months ago is you told me about phantom pain , that you definitely had it. You even talked about waking up in the morning and starting to use that arm to turn off your alarm clock before you had to remind yourself it wasn't there. Phantom pain still a part of your life?

Mr. METZ: It is, much less so. What I -- what I experience now is more of a phantom sensation, so I can feel the limb, the residual limb, but it's not as painful, so.

LAUER: Is that pretty typical?

Dr. ELLNER: Yeah. After a while, once the prosthesis gets placed, it goes from actual pain to just sensations that occur intermittently. And Jon will get used to that over time .

LAUER: What about emotionally, Jon ? You know, it occurred to me last night when I was thinking about you showing up here this morning, that ever since this happened you have been on a bit of a roller coaster. I mean, from the very first days there were guys like me sticking cameras in your face. And I 'm wondering, have you allowed yourself the time to grieve for your loss, I mean literally and figuratively?

Mr. METZ: I have. In fact, really it was the two or three weeks between when I got out of the hospital and the initial euphoria of just living wore off and before I was healed enough to start working on the prosthetic arm where I...

LAUER: You allowed yourself those days where it was just depressing and devastating?

Mr. METZ: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Actually...

LAUER: And you've moved on from those.

Mr. METZ: You know, still have some of those days, but, you know, this has given me a lot of optimism.

LAUER: You don't have any problems going back down in that basement, which I think surprises some people. A lot of people would think the ordeal you went through over those three days, 'I'm going to lock that door, I'm never going back into that room,' and yet you're down there woodworking.

Mr. METZ: You know, I told you, I think, when we spoke last time, Matt , it's therapeutic for me. It was before and it's starting to be again. And really, the boiler is gone. And that was the one thing that I wasn't ready to see again.

LAUER: By the way, you're doing some pretty nice work . This is a little, a little chest that you actually made for Dr. Ellner , right?

Dr. ELLNER: Yeah. I just got married last month and as a wedding gift Jon and his wife, Mel , presented us with this gift about four weeks ago after the injury. And this is quite an amazing piece of work, as you can see. Very solid.

LAUER: Considering he's used the prosthetic or one hand -- one hand and a prosthetic to do it.

Dr. ELLNER: Right.

LAUER: Speaking of -- by the way, congratulations on your marriage.

Dr. ELLNER: Thank you.

LAUER: And you're getting married to Melissa in November?

Mr. METZ: November 13th.

LAUER: That's -- I mean, weddings are always emotional...

Mr. METZ: Hm.

LAUER: ...but that's got to take on even more significance after what you've been through.

Mr. METZ: Yeah. If my brother's wedding, which was a few weekends ago, is any indication, it's going to be an emotional experience for everyone.

LAUER: Right.

Mr. METZ: But a happy one, too.