A choice for life. (man amputates his lower leg after accident)


Authors:     Mueller, Larry

Citation:    Outdoor Life, July 1994 v194 n1 p62(5)




Subjects:    Amputees_Personal narratives

             Survival skills_Personal narratives


People:      Wyman, Donald_Wounds and injuries


Reference #: A15484728




Abstract: Donald Wyman had to amputate his lower left leg on

          Jul 20, 1993, after a tree he sawed fell on it. He

          believes he was able to survive because of his

          experiences and training as an outdoorsman. He was

          hunting later in the year, wearing a prosthetic





Full Text COPYRIGHT Times Mirror Magazines Inc. 1994


Almost everybody has heard the extraordinary story of Donald

Wyman, the 37-year-old outdoorsman who cut off his own leg.

Alone one evening cutting down trees at his work site, by a

freak of nature a massive cut tree trunk launched itself at

him like a battering ram, throwing him backwards and pinning

him to the ground. Barely able to move, his leg shattered,

and with no way to get help, he was forced to make the most

harrowing decision of his life.


Of course, for most of us, it's impossible to hear the

horrifying details of this story without magining-in fact,

feeling-the excruciating agony Donald Wyman felt. And as we

go through this ordeal in our minds, most of us will ask some

difficult questions. Such as, faced with the same unbearable

circumstances, how would we react? Could we have found some

other way to free ourselves? If not, would we have had the

courage, the sheer strength of character, to face hellish

pain and do what Wyman did? And there are other questions:

What kind of man is this guy, really? What unique traits make

him the very special kind of person who could do what he did?

Had his many years as an avid outdoorsman given him urlique

preparation for surviving this bloody, life-threatening



To the last question, Wyman's response is immediate and

unequivocal: "Yes, I'm sure they did." And then, thinking

further, he says, "But it's such a gradual process that it's

hard to say exactly how it came about."


On July 20,1993, Donald Wyman had just completed his shift as

a bulldozer operator in a Pennsylvania strip mine. When a pit

site widens, trees must be cleared, and Wyman had made a

deal. Rather than see trees wasted, he had acquired

permission to keep selected trees he removed on his own time.


This particular evening, Wyman chose a 26-inch oak. To avoid

risk of kickback, he always pushed over his trees with the

bulldozer instead of sawing. When this oak toppled, he shoved

its trunk downhill a short distance to the mine road. There,

it would be more accessible for cutting off the stump and

root wad. His 16-inch chain saw wouldn't cut all of the way

through, of course, so his first cut was up from underneath.

Next, he sawed down from the uphill side to meet his original

cut. As he did, he felt his first cut pinching together.

Mistakenly, Wyman thought that the stump was trying to roll

downhill. Instead, the tree was trying to spring uphill.


What Wyman hadn't noticed was that the upper part of the tree

had wedged between other trees when it fell. As he pushed the

trunk downhill, the oak developed a bow somewhat like a

bent-sapling snare in reverse - but magnum in size and

strength. With the heavy stump and root ball holding it in

place, it had become nothing less than a giant trap waiting

to be sprung.


"When I sawed deep enough for it to break free," Wyman says,

"the spring in the tree drove the trunk at me like a Mack

truck. It knocked me 10 feet, broke both bones in my lower

left leg, and smashed my foot into the ground. My instant

reaction was to push the tree off of me, but of course, that

didn't work. I was pinned. I could see that the broken bones

were protruding against my pant leg about seven inches below

the knee. But the rest of my leg and foot were under the



Wyman yelled for help ... it was unlikely that anyone would

hear, but it was something to try while clearing his head for

other options. He had always been good at options-sometimes

too good. His dad had been a steel worker and truck driver

who worked a lot and couldn't always take him hunting. So

Wyman's solution was to hunt alone. The game warden drove him

home one afternoon, explaining why that's not an option for a

boy under 16 in Pennsylvania. ...


The chain saw lay five feet away, still running. Wyman

grabbed a stick with a little hook of a branch, pulled the

saw within reach, and shut it off to conserve fuel. But

exactly how to make good use of it wasn't immediately

evident. The log had hit the outside of his left leg, pinning

him to the ground on his right side. He couldn't twist

against his trapped leg far enough to use the saw. And even

if he could reach the log, the saw would cut only 16 inches

deep, while the tree was 26 inches thick. Obviously, he

couldn't get around to the opposite side of the log to make

the second cut.


And there was another sobering thought to consider-he was

probably pinned right at the tree's pressure point. Did it

have any spring left in it? If someone disturbed it by

cutting, would the tree butt crash into his chest or head

this time?


The question was academic. Nobody was there to do the cutting



But Wyman kept yelling, though without much faith that anyone

was there to hear. Janet, his wife, would not worry until

after dark, when he usually came home. As she put it later,

"The only thing he can't stand is being cooped up

inside-he'll do anything to stay outdoors." And in his many

years spent in die outdoors, Wyman had settled one one

fundamental rule - to fill his tag or switch tactics and try

something else!


Now he clawed dirt out from under his leg with his bare

hands. Perhaps he could dig himself out.


Quickly, he was down to hardpan. A stick wouldn't loosen it.

The chain saw? It worked, but three times the chain hit rocks

and flew off of the bar. He patiently dismanded the saw each

time, careful not to lose nuts or bolts, then reassembled it.

When the saw ran out of gas, he tore it down one more time

and used the bar to continue digging. Finally, he could see

his foot. It was totally inaccessible, smashed between the

tree and bedrock.


Wyman fought the panic that threatens when your last plan of

action has fallen through. All his life, he had been

challenging himself - trying, testing, seeing how far he

could go, what he could survive. One ear he'd hiked into the

Allegheny Forest with a buddy in late February to camp in

minus 15 [degrees] temperatures without a tent. On that

adventure there had been no lack of ideas. They built a stone

fireplace and heated the rocks all day. Spread on the ground

and covered with a mat of hemlock boughs, the rocks made a

warm platform for sleeping bags.


Wyman had wanted to take the challenge one step further when

small-game hunting was again legal after deer season. He

proposed hiking in without food or tent. But nobody shared

his confidence that, with survival at stake, he could always

be able to come up with that one great idea that would save



Now, however, with tons of pressure bearing down on his

shattered leg, Wyman had no backup plan, no great idea. He

prayed. He thought of his family. He looked around the woods,

thought hard, searching for solutions. In the forest, he

thought, dead limbs-even whole trees - fall every day. So

what would a raccoon do, say, if its foot became trapped

under a deadfall?


He knew the answer: When the foot numbed, the raccoon would

amputate it with its teeth. man had been inned for an hour.

It would be another four or five hours before his wife would

suspect something was wrong. More until someone came looking.

He feared he'd go into shock by that time-and-people die from



That was when it came to him. The only answer: "I could leave

my leg here and live."


Wyman reached for his pocket knife. It had a narrow

three-inch clip blade. He used it for cleaning grease

fittings on his bulldozer, not for skinning. He tried to slit

his pant leg to see what sort of damage he had suffered. The

knife wouldn't even cut cloth.


Fishing about in the dirt, Wyman found a piece of sandstone.

He began to whet an edge on the blade, just as he'd done on

deer hunts so often before. A lifetime in the outdoors had

taught him that those who give up easily don't succeed. Now

Wyman's steely determination to succeed would be put to the

sternest test it would ever face. With the roughly honed

blade, he slit his pant leg. "When I saw how bad it was, with

bones sticking out and my foot smashed, I knew what I had to

do," Wyman said. "I pulled the starting cord out of my chain

saw for a tourniquet. Of course, a tourniquet causes damage

when it's on too long. I tied it right above where it was

really bad so I'd lose as little leg as possible. Then I cut

my skin, sort of scratched it with the knife, to see if there

was any feeling. It didn't hurt too bad. So I tried it again

a little deeper. That hurt I doubted I could do it. "Finally,

I decided there was no other way to stay alive. I got myself

in a determined state of mind, grabbed my leg with my left

hand, resolved not to pull back, and I started cutting where

the bones were already broken. It hurt terribly every time I

hit a nerve or vein. My muscles jumped like frog legs in a

frying pan. But I kept cutting across the top. And then I cut

up from underneath until the knife came through and I could

pull away.


"Blood was spurting from arteries, so I laid the chain saw

wrench across the tourniquet knot, tied another knot over it,

and twisted until the spurting stopped. I gave my leg one

last look and crawled 140 feet up the hill to my bulldozer."


It's never easy to get on a bulldozer. And holding the

tourniquet tight with his left hand, Wyman had on his right

hand and right foot with which to climb. After two or three

futile attempts, he said onto one of the force arms holding

the blade. That enabled him to crawl up the front of the

track and drag himself back to the cab. Wyman started the

engine and threw the automatic transmission into gear. "I was

relieved to be on a piece of machinery that could take me

someplace," he said. "My truck was a quarter of a mile away."


The pickup's four-speed standard shift posed a whole new

problem. Wyman grabbed a file to extend his reach. With it,

he pushed the clutch pedal, got the transmission in first

gear, and left it there to drive.


The first two homes he came to along the road looked

deserted, but a girl was playing in the third yard. "Get your

dad," Wyman yelled. "I'm bleeding to death."


John Huber came out of his dairy barn cautiously-he thought

this fellow was yelling like a madman. Finally, to make

himself clear, Wyman raised the stump of his leg. It looked

as if it had been blown off by a shotgun. Huber ran inside to

call an ambulance.


"What direction are they coming from?" Wyman asked when Huber



"I don't know."


"Go back and ask the dispatcher," Wyman urged. "It's faster

if we meet them halfway."


Huber came back, now with a clear plan, slid behind the

controls, and the raced off. Incredibly, Wyman asked Huber to

slow down so they wouldn't die in a wreck!


At the crossroads, Wyman's clear-headed thinking and planning

continued. Volunteer fire fighters, a rescue team, beat the

ambulance to the scene. Wyman calmly drew them a map of where

his leg could be located. He climbed onto the wheeled

stretcher, but refused a sedative, not wanting to be knocked

out in case someone else got excited and made a mistake.


"I did let them give me morphine at the hospital," Wyman said

later. They had to wash the leg and clamp the arteries. Boy,

that hurt! Soon after, they took me to the operating room and

did a nicer job than I had. My leg followed me to the

hospital by a half-hour, but the doctors said it was too

late, they couldn't reattach it. In fact, they said it was

probably best that I had cut it off. With all the broken

bones in the leg and smashed foot, I would have been

hospitalized from six months to two years. It would have

taken many operations to reconstruct the bones. Even then, I

may never have walked as well as I do now."


Motivated by Wyman's courage, the Advanced Prosthetic and

Limb Bank Foundation decided he should be one of 100 amputees

testing a new technology called "Sense-of-Feel." Sabolich

Prosthetics and Research Center, Oklahoma City, fitted Wyman

with a leg that has sensors on the bottom of the foot. These

devices send signals to his leg muscles, which are still

operating his foot, even though it isn't there. "I know when

a rock is under my foot," Wyman says. "So I can avoid

sliding. And it greatly helps my balance to know when the

foot touches ground."


Just three months after the accident, on Sunday, October 24,

Wyman had been back to work on his bulldozer for a full week.

By then, he'd astounded nearly everybody in America - except

those who already knew him before the accident. His wife, his

son, Brian, his boss, David Osikowicz, and his close friends

were all aware of his strength of character. None were

surprised that he was able to adjust his thinking to do

whatever it took to survive.


A day earlier, the Wyman family had returned to the accident

scene for the first time to sit on the log, the only

remaining evidence of Wyman's horror. Somehow, Janet Wyman

had expected the site to be twisted and torn - as tormented

as the feelings she had about die torture her husband had

survived. Instead, she found only peace and quiet. Rains had

erased the bloody trail Wyman had left from log to bulldozer.

The single sound was a grouse in the distance.


Don Wyman listened in silence as his wife tried

unsuccessfully to reconcile the serenity she saw around her

with the sorrow she felt. She'd narrowly escaped the long

suffering of widowhood. But traumatic as it had been, when

all else failed, Wyman had been permitted this one

heart-rending, lifesaving decision.


And now, like nature itself, he was ready to move on. "I

don't mourn the loss of my leg," he says. "I'm alive and

already getting around pretty well. I'm happy the way things

turned out."


By December, Wyman and his son, Brian, were hunting in the

Alleghenies again. To no one's surprise, Wyman got his deer.



from: times mirror magazines