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Close call: Tree trimmer survives chainsaw stuck in neck

A Pennsylvania tree trimmer who was impaled by a chainsaw that narrowly missed a major artery in his neck will be leaving the hospital on Wednesday, just two days after the incident happened.On Monday, 21-year-old James Valentine was pruning branches with a chainsaw when the blade kicked back, cutting through his shoulder and lodging in his neck. Valentine was hanging in a harness, wearing a helme

A Pennsylvania tree trimmer who was impaled by a chainsaw that narrowly missed a major artery in his neck will be leaving the hospital on Wednesday, just two days after the incident happened.

On Monday, 21-year-old James Valentine was pruning branches with a chainsaw when the blade kicked back, cutting through his shoulder and lodging in his neck. Valentine was hanging in a harness, wearing a helmet, and his co-workers lowered him from the tree while he held the chainsaw in place. They removed the harness and helmet, leaving the chainsaw where it was while they called for help.

“The co-workers were vital … in helping him down and keeping him calm,” said Greg Porter, assistant director of Ross/West View EMS, one of seven responders to the scene. “The decision to leave the saw in place and allow us to immobilize the saw, I believe, was a very critical life-saving decision.”

James Valentine was taken to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh on Monday, where this X-ray was taken that shows the chainsaw stuck in his neck. Today

While keeping the blade in Valentine's neck, the emergency medical workers took apart the motor and as much of the chainsaw as possible to stabilize him. Keeping an impaled object in a wound is essential for a patient’s survival.  

“In the world of trauma, we deal with a lot of impalements,” said Dr. Christine Toevs, medical director of the trauma ICU at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, who treated Valentine.

Leaving the object in place, whether a pencil or a pole or in this case, a chainsaw, Toevs said, staunches the bleeding and leads to better outcomes.

“Leave anything impaled in place,” she said.  

When Valentine arrived at the hospital, he was awake and alert, though understandably frightened.

The trauma team examined him and took an X-ray, showing that the chainsaw cut through muscle in his neck and did not nick any major arteries. They prepped him for surgery and removed the blade without any major bleeding. The wound, about 13 centimeters in size, looks like a large cut, Toevs said, and is held together with about 30 stitches. 

“He’ll go home today," she said. "It is pretty amazing.”