IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Passers-by were ‘angels’ when girl, 6, lost hand

After 6-year-old Erica Rix lost her hand in an accident, passers-by quickly stepped in, recovering the severed hand and possibly saving the child's life. With her daughter's hand reattached today, Allison Rix said, “People are good. They want to help.”
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It’s any parent’s worst nightmare. A child is sitting in her car seat. Suddenly, a loud noise comes from the back of the car, followed by a bloodcurdling scream.

When Allison Rix of Los Gatos, Calif., heard those sounds two weeks ago, she did what any parent would do. She pulled her SUV off the road and looked back at her 6-year-old daughter, Erica. What she saw horrified her.

As Rix told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira on Tuesday, her daughter’s left arm was caught on the vehicle’s rear window, which was cracked six or eight inches open. Her hand was gone and blood was spurting from her wrist.

Sudden terror
Mother and daughter were returning from soccer practice, and Rix had no idea that Erica had been playing with a jump rope she had found. She had looped the rope around her wrist and was dangling the handle out the window.

“I wanted to see it go up and down because I thought it was gonna fly,” Erica told NBC News in a separate interview.

But instead of flying, the handle of the jump rope got caught in the car’s axle. The noose at the other hand tightened around Erica's wrist, taking off her hand.

“I immediately called 911,” Rix told Vieira. “I just tried to make sense of the whole accident; I had no idea my daughter had grabbed this rope, so I couldn’t figure out what took place. I couldn’t make sense of it all.”

Rix stood in the road screaming, “Where’s her hand? Where’s her hand?” and trying to wave down other drivers to help. 

Angels arriveThat’s when people Rix calls “her angels” stepped in. Jim Bailey, 48, pulled over, assessed the situation, and put the first aid courses he had taken to good use.

“Just like a superhero I like to think of him as, he whipped off his belt and did a tourniquet on my daughter,” Rix related. That swift action may have saved Erica from bleeding to death.

Another woman, Pat Heller, stopped and found the hand lying in the street, the rope still wrapped around it. She stood over it protectively, directing traffic around it.

Still another motorist, Gail Andrews, called local police directly, bypassing the 911 system, which Rix was having trouble reaching.

Thanks to Rix’s “angels,” help quickly arrived. Erica and her severed hand were taken first to a local hospital, and then to Stanford University Medical Center, where a team of four surgeons worked 10 hours to reattach the hand.

“I didn’t think it even was a possibility,” Rix said of saving her daughter’s hand. “I just kept praying for my daughter’s life at this point.”

‘The most wonderful day’
When the surgery was over and the doctors told Rix that they had successfully reattached the hand, she was ecstatic. “When they came out, it was the most wonderful day of my life,” the 32-year-old mother of two said.

NBC medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman told Vieira that the surgery was made more difficult because the hand had been ripped off Erica’s arm, leaving ragged edges and crushed and damaged tissue. “This is something that was pulled apart, versus a knife in a kitchen that would have been a clean cut,” Snyderman said.

Thus the surgeons had to reconnect minuscule veins and arteries to reestablish blood supply to the hand. When they were done, they put the arm in a heavily padded cast, warning Erica that even a hard bump could jeopardize the healing process.

On Tuesday, blond, pigtailed Erica was all smiles, playing with stuffed animals with her right hand while her mom talked about the injury. Erica still has no feeling in the hand, and further surgery will be necessary to reattach nerves and tendons. Doctors say that she probably won’t regain full use of her hand, but because she’s young and adaptable, she should regain substantial function.

The experience has renewed Rix’s faith in people.

Since the accident, total strangers have donated money to help defray her medical expenses. Others have volunteered to help keep a 24-hour watch on Erica to make sure she doesn’t damage her hand. The firemen who came to her rescue visited her at home and let her sit in the fire truck.

“I can’t thank them enough,” Rix said. “I’m so grateful for everything that everybody did.

“We hear about all the negatives, but people out there are good. They want to help.”