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Months after losing his arm, a 12-year-old plays baseball, inspires others

Four months after losing his arm, 12-year-old Seth Apel earned a spot on a Little League team; he hopes to inspire others to stay positive.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

One Saturday morning in November, Josh Apel asked his sons to help him chop firewood. For an hour, 12-year-old Seth drove tractor loads of wood across the property in rural Knox, Pennsylvania.

But on the last trip, a machine that automatically unloaded the wood snagged the right arm of his coat. The next thing Seth remembers is looking down and seeing blood. He didn’t realize it, but his arm had been torn off at the shoulder.

“I knew everything was going to be okay. I didn’t know if I had my arm or not. I just knew God was there with me,” Seth says.

Despite the incredible pain, Seth says he felt calm thanks to his strength and faith. This fortitude has helped the young athlete recover quickly, allowing him to play baseball mere months after his accident.

Because of the fast action of his grandfather, who called 911 immediately, and the skills of the EMS, Seth’s arm was saved. After an eight-hour surgery, doctors re-attached his arm.

“That was amazing. That was not what I expected,” says mom Angie Apel.

Seth in the hospital after doctors reattached his arm in an eight-hour surgeryCourtesy Angie Apel

Since then she says they’ve experienced blessing after blessing. This weekend — just four short months after his accident— Seth tried out for Little League.

“I got on the team I was on last year. Last year I played pitcher and catcher and shortstop and second; really everything, but I was probably best at catching. This year is probably going to be first base; it is mostly catching and not as far to throw,” Seth says.

He’ll be throwing and catching with his left arm until he regains full use of his right arm. This means he quickly takes off his glove after he catches to throw the ball. He’ll bat normally.

“He is determined,” says Josh Apel, adding that Seth’s love of baseball is a “factor in why he is doing so well.”

Four months after doctors reattached his arm, Seth won a spot on a Little League team and will play first baseCourtesy of Angie Apel

When Seth arrived at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, doctors needed to decide whether they could reattach his arm. Often when a limb is pulled off, the nerves stretch and it can be tricky to reconnect them, says Dr. Lorelei Grunwaldt, a plastic surgeon who treated Seth.

“It was a situation where it was questionable that it was going to work but in my mind, in a young patient we always want to give him a shot,” she says.

Seth in the hospital after doctors reattached his arm that he lost in an accidentCourtesy Angie Apel

Seth healed quickly. He says he didn’t feel too much pain. The constant beeping from the machines was the worst part of his hospital stay; it made it tough to sleep. But it soon became clear that Seth’s resilience helped him.

“A positive outlook and attitude and willpower make a difference in terms of recovery,” says Grunwaldt. “He has a really strong support system and he is a really special kid.”

After three weeks in the hospital, Seth returned home. A few weeks later, he asked Grunwaldt if it was okay to get in a tree stand to hunt.

“Seth and his family are very inspiring and you know that he really is a special kid. I think that he’s made tremendous gains in a short amount of time,” she says.

Seth possesses feeling in his shoulder and mid-way down his arm. He can lift his arm over his head, move his elbow a little, and slightly move his fingers. Grunwaldt can’t predict whether Seth’s right arm will recover fully, but says he’s doing well.

Seth and dad Josh at a classCourtesy of Angie Apel

Seth hopes to inspire others recovering from accidents or grappling with illness. He says he never felt discouraged because “God keeps me going” and shares some advice.

“Just stay positive and know that everything is going to get worked out.”

Friends have set up a Go Fund Me site for Seth's medical costs and recovery. You can find it here.