FULL INTERVIEW: Tree surgeon speaks about horrific chainsaw accident which left him minutes from death
A MAN who almost beheaded himself in an horrific chainsaw accident in a Fenland village has spoken about how he was only minutes from death.
Tree surgeon Tom Connelly, 21, miraculously survived after he cut through more than a third of his neck and severed his jugular vein in the accident at work in April.
His foot slipped when he was cutting a branch 50ft up a tree and he slipped into the 12 inch blade, slashing his neck and left arm.
Tom severed nearly every blood vessel in his neck and doctors said he was just 1mm away from cutting through his carotid artery, which would have killed him.
He lost an incredible three litres of blood and would have bled to death within three minutes if his work colleagues and emergency medical charity Magpas had not treated him so quickly.
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“It was an every day job that I had done hundreds of times before,” said Tom, who now has a 15 inch scar on his neck, stretching from his shoulder blade to his windpipe.
“But I was half way through cutting the tree trunk when my foot slipped and I rolled into the chainsaw.
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“I was left dangling in the air and I could see blood dripping from my arm. I went into shock, but the adrenaline kicked in so I didn’t actually feel any pain.
“I screamed for help and my colleagues quickly got me out of the tree.
“My friend Rob told me to put my hand across my throat and hold on to my head and it was then I realised my neck was bleeding too.
“I later realised I’d nearly cut my head off, so I am incredibly lucky to be here today.”
Tom has worked as a tree surgeon, contracting for The BTS Group based in Suffolk, for nearly three years since leaving college at the age of 18.
On the day of the accident, April 14, he was working with three colleagues to remove a horse chestnut tree in a front garden in Guyhirn, near Wisbech, Cambs.
He had climbed up the tree attached to a harness and wearing his boots which have five inch climbing spikes.
Fellow tree surgeon Rob Nixon, who witnessed the horrendous accident, said: “I was working in a different part of the tree and suddenly heard Tom shouting.
“I looked up and saw something dripping down. At first I thought it must be oil from the saw then I realised it was blood.
“I rushed up to Tom as quickly as I could and saw his neck was also really badly cut.
“He was conscious but very pale and he passed out for a few seconds. I realised it was as bad as it could get.”
Amazingly Rob and his colleague Jimmy Cooper managed to lower Tom out of the tree within a minute and quickly put all the bandages they could find on his neck to try and stop the bleeding.
An ambulance arrived and minutes later medics from emergency medical charity Magpas came in the Magpas and police helicopter.
The Magpas team packed the wound with special gauze which contains a chemical to make the blood clot and is used on injured soldiers in Afghanistan.
“He would have been dead from the blood loss within about three minutes if everyone hadn’t acted so quickly to stem the blood flow,” said Dr James French, a Magpas medic, who attended the incident.
“He had a huge wound in the side of his neck, he had cut a lot of blood vessels and there was lots of blood spurting out.
“Fortunately he is an example of everything going right. His colleagues had got him out of the tree quickly and had pressed down on the main point of bleeding.
“We sedated him then packed the wound with one-and-a-half metres of gauze before flying him to the trauma centre at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.”
Tom said he was convinced he was going to die.
“I was later told the cut was so big the medics could see the top of my rib cage,” he said.
“I thought if they sedated me and I closed my eyes I would never wake up again.”
At the hospital Tom was sent for a scan to assess the damage, and then he was given emergency vascular surgery. He had 40 stitches in his neck and left arm.
The next day he was transferred to The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex, where he was given a nerve graft to repair the severed nerves in his shoulder.
Surgeons hope the nerves will eventually grow back together and he will regain 90 per cent mobility in his arm, a process which could take weeks or months.
Tom was told he would probably be in hospital for three weeks but amazingly he was discharged after just five days.
“They said my recovery was absolutely remarkable,” said Tom, who had a neck brace and his arm in a sling.
“My mum bought loads of pillows and I sat in bed and watched TV, I couldn’t move my neck.”
Five weeks later he was back at work part-time, carrying out light duties, and as soon as his arm has healed he hopes to be cutting trees again.
“It hasn’t put me off. I want to get back, it’s my job and I love it,” he said.
“But it’s only thanks to my colleagues, the Magpas team and the medics at Addenbrooke’s Hospital that I am alive and I want to say a huge thank you.”
His mum Debbie Connelly said she is also hugely grateful to everyone involved for saving her son’s life.
“He has always been accident prone and has lots of scars under his chin and on his forehead from childhood accidents,” she added.
“I’m frightened about him going back to work as a tree surgeon, but I know it’s a job he loves.”
Tom’s boss Brian Dow, senior manager of the BTS Group, for whom Tom was working as a sub-contractor, said: “He shouldn’t be alive, the odds were all against him.
“We spend tens of thousands a year training our staff to cope with an incident like this and it’s only when an accident happens you realise it was effective.
“The whole team worked really well together and I’m very proud of them.”
Dr French, from Magpas, added: “I’m proud to work for Magpas. Most of the medics volunteer their time for free, to keep this vital lifesaving service going.
“We don’t receive any Government funding, we rely solely on the generosity of the public and Magpas Helimedix is the UK’s only charity funded Air Ambulance to fly at night with doctors.”