Natasha Baggett knew she was in trouble when, out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of her index finger flying through the air.
Baggett, 28, was doing a woodworking project for another mom in her community when a table saw maimed her hand.
Almost a year later, she’s still dealing with nerve pain in the aftermath of the accident, but grateful to have a prosthesis she described as “the next-best thing to having regular fingers” and a new outlook on life.
“It might be hard for people to understand, but I don’t regret it because after I lost my fingers, a lot of things changed in me,” Baggett, who lives on a farm in Lewis County, Washington, told TODAY.
“I didn’t realize how much the world is set up for just abled people before," she said. "Now, my eyes are really open to that because I have limited ability for things. I notice things more. I’ve made a lot of good friends in the amputee community.”
As a creative person who likes to build things, Baggett was naturally drawn to woodworking. Last May, she offered to help a local woman whose teenage son had a brain tumor and needed a custom laptop table for his wheelchair.
Baggett was using a “hand-me-down saw” that someone gave her for free. It didn’t have a guard on it, but she had never had any issues or close calls with it before.
This time, the table saw suddenly kicked back and the board Baggett was cutting went airborne. As it came down, it smacked Baggett's right hand into the blade, which sliced off two fingers and the top of her thumb. She called it “a freak accident.”
“I was just like, ‘Oh, my God, did that really just happen?’" Baggett said. "I didn’t feel the pain right away, it just felt like a burning sensation.”
“My thumb was obliterated so I was having a hard time unlocking my phone to call 911,” she added.
It took the ambulance 30 minutes to get to the rural setting. Baggett was home alone on the ranch with two of her four kids, who didn’t see the accident. She rounded up the dogs, squeezed her finger nubs to try to stop the blood flow and lay down in the grass in front of her house until the paramedics arrived.
It was only after they came that she started feeling the pain.
Baggett was taken to a local hospital, then transported to a bigger facility almost two hours away. Her knuckles were obliterated, so doctors weren’t able to reattach her fingers, but they reconstructed the top of her thumb with a skin graft.
After the accident, everyday life wasn't the same. Without those two fingers, Baggett had trouble holding a phone, buttoning a shirt, fixing her hair or opening a car door. She was constantly dropping things or stubbing her fingers nubs, which caused pain and sometimes small fractures.
She’s also been dealing with complex regional pain syndrome, a type of chronic pain that can develop after a limb injury. Patients have described it as a “burning” and “pins and needles” sensation, or as if someone were squeezing the affected limb. Baggett called it “really bad nerve pain that never goes away” around her amputation areas. She also started experiencing pain in her two healthy fingers from overuse. She’s constantly at a doctor’s office, trying to figure out the solution.
In December, Baggett started using a prosthesis that allows her to grip things, push buttons and use light switches.
“It’s almost like having my fingers back,” she said.
Her love for woodworking continues, though the table saw that caused the accident has been thrown away. Baggett finished the custom laptop table she was making for the teen boy the day after she was released from the hospital and has become friends with his family.
Her own family has grown closer since the accident and she’s grateful for the help and support she received from friends and loved ones. Her husband is a pilot and she said his work community rallied around the couple, too. She is also thankful for the Trauma Survivors Outcomes and Support Program at the University of Washington, which she credited for helping her recover and navigate medical appointments.
She sometimes still can't believe the accident happened, but she's glad about the positive change it's brought to her life.
“Before, I struggled a lot with negative thinking,” Baggett said. “I don’t take things for granted as much anymore, my outlook on life is a lot more positive and I appreciate things more.”