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Healthy You

From Mowing the Lawn to the ER, Patient Recalls Traumatic Hand Injury

By Angelina Campanile

Lawnmowers kill more people every year than alligators, sharks, and bears. 

In fact, lawnmower accidents are responsible for the deaths of about 90 Americans and more than 35,000 hospital admissions annually, according to a report by lawn and gardening resource Lawn Starter, which analyzed data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

Mowing Lawn

Andy Kalnins, 44, found himself in the NorthShore Skokie Hospital Emergency Department last November after trying to multitask while operating his walk-behind lawnmower. The mower sliced off chunks of his right middle and index fingers as he tried to clear leaves that had clumped around the blade. 

“I thought I could keep the mower running with my left hand while cleaning the bottom with my right hand,” Kalnins, of Northbrook, said. “Clearly that didn’t go so well.”

Unlike injuries from kitchen knives or cutting tools, lawnmower blades are more likely to affect nerves, tendons, bones, and multiple fingers, said Daniel Lee, MD, a hand surgeon with the NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute

“The majority of patients who need reconstructive surgery like Andy after a lawnmower or snowblower accident are people who have the most experience with these machines,” Dr. Lee said. “They lower their guard, and turning on that autopilot is what lands them in the ER.”

Dr. Lee surgically reconstructed Kalnins’ fingers by redirecting the blood vessels and nerves in his fingers. He then covered the exposed soft tissue by grafting healthy skin from Andy’s palm and bicep. 

“I knew Dr. Lee really cared about me because he took the time to explain everything step by step,” Kalnins said. 

Between Dr. Lee’s surgical expertise and his mom’s “old-fashioned” remedies like manuka oil and pine bark extract, Kalnins said he’s feeling great and looking forward to getting back to work in the yard. 

If you injure yourself while working in the yard and lose some function in your hand, such as the inability to flex or extend fingers, or experience numbness, pain or swelling, get evaluated by a medical professional. These signs may indicate an underlying injury of a tendon, nerve or bone.

Tips to Prevent Yard Work Injuries

  • Even if you’re a seasoned pro, it’s important to handle equipment with the same caution and care as if you were a novice.