Doctors perform ‘miracle,’ reattach mother’s arm so she could hold twin infants again

Published 6:19 pm Sunday, November 29, 2020

“What my daughter is — is a miracle,” said Susan Gordy of Hineston, wiping away tears.

“More so a miracle that God worked through these doctors,” she said of those who were in the Rapides Regional Medical Center Trauma Center the day her daughter Shelbi Poe was brought by ambulance from Leesville. Her arm was severed in a side-by-side accident on April 4. Given that she was 26 and the mother of twin infants, doctors opted to reattach her arm instead of amputate.

Dr. Anthony Pruett was the physician on duty in the emergency department that day. On call were Dr. Matthew Linger, trauma surgeon; Dr. William C. Skakun, orthopedic surgeon; Dr. Chance R. Dewitt, cardiovascular thoracic surgeon; and Dr. H. Stephen Maguire, plastic and reconstructive surgery.

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“It was a very frank discussion,” said Skakun. “We are a trauma center. We see a lot of near, partial or complete amputations. But the age of the patient, the fact that she had twin babies at home, along with the obvious disability that would go along with that decision were factors we considered.”

“The patient literally had almost no attachment of her arm except for a sliver of her triceps muscle,” said Dewitt. “Bones, muscle, ligaments, nerves and arteries were severed. Normally, this would be an amputation.”

But Gordy said the doctors didn’t take the “easy way out.”

“Not that it would have been easy to amputate somebody’s arm,” she said. “But these doctors believed — they believed in miracles, too.”

“I will always have a special place in my heart for what they did for me,” said Shelbi “There’s no words to describe what they did.”

On the day of April 4, Shelbi and her husband Jason “Mikey” Poe, were having a small get together at their home. In the evening, Shelbi and her friends decided to go for a ride on a side-by-side.

“I don’t really remember a whole lot — like the happening — but it flipped,” said Shelbi, who was a passenger. “And my arm had gotten pinned under the seatbelt bracket.”

She recalls that the others came to pick up the side-by-side and as soon as they did that, there was blood everywhere. They were trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding before placing Mikey’s belt around her arm.

An ambulance was called but it was going to take 30 or 45 minutes to get to their home. Shelbi was loaded into Mikey’s truck to take her to the hospital in Leesville. On the way there, they met the ambulance and she was transferred over for the trip to RRMC.

Gordy was taking care of her twin grandchildren Stella and Jackson when she received the call that Shelbi had been in an accident.

“My first instinct was, ‘How bad is it?’,” she said. “They just told me it was bad. I had no idea what we were looking at.”

She called her other daughter Josie Thompson and asked her and her father to come over and take care of the babies while she rushed to the Alexandria hospital.

“I got here to the hospital and of course, COVID is going on,” said Gordy. “It just broke out. So we were not allowed in the hospital.”

She found Mikey who was very upset.

“All he could do was apologize,” she said. ”’I’m so sorry! ‘I’m so sorry!’ As if it was his fault. And it wasn’t his fault by any means.”

The doctors came out to tell them that Shelbi was in surgery. At that point, they didn’t know exactly what they were going to do.

“So my question to them was, ‘How bad is it?’,” she said. “They explained to me that it was like somebody took my daughter’s arm and put it on a block and took an ax to it.”

“As a mother, my heart sunk,” recalled Gordy, her voice shaking. “Not only for my daughter, but she had just been through a long journey. And she had two babies at home.”

Her first initial thought as a mother was caring for a baby requires the use of both arms.

“But she has two,” said Gordy. “I remember looking at Mikey and I know how strong my daughter is and I believe in miracles.”

The doctors explained to them that this was just one surgery. Shelbi was going to have to have multiple surgeries. Even after a year and 12-13 surgeries down the road, she may still lose her arm.

Even though she didn’t know what the outcome would be, she told the doctors that her daughter was strong and needed to be given the chance to make that decision for herself.

“I’m thankful that they did,” said Gordy. “Because without them, she couldn’t be the momma she was always supposed to have been.”

Gordy spoke directly to the doctors after a press conference at RRMC. Her voice at times shaking with emotion, she thanked them for saving her daughter’s arm instead of amputating it. She recalled that day and what she was told.

“There was nothing medically that told you to save her arm,” she told them. But they did, and because of that Shelbi is able to hold her babies and hold their hands.

Shelbi is strong, said Gordy, and would have been there for her children but physically, she would not have been able to do it by herself.

“When it first happened, I didn’t even know that was a possibility until after I got to the room and they told me,” said Shelbi about the possible amputation of her arm. She didn’t know how severe the injury was when she first woke up. Shelbi spent 17 days in the hospital.

“The possibility of it was definitely scary because I didn’t know what life would be like with two babies and having an amputation,” she said.

Shelbi can’t do everything that she used to do, said Gordy, but she’s got about 75 percent if not 80 percent use of her arm.

“And she can move her fingers,” she said. “And we went home, with her arm attached to her stomach. That was horrific. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. But to see what your body can do to heal itself was amazing. It was hard for her.”

Since so much of the arm was damaged, skin was taken from her abdomen to reconstruct the arm’s soft tissue. The arm was then attached to her stomach so the graft would take and the wound would have time to heal.

“It was immensely gratifying,” said Maguire. “The bulk of my training goes to these types of reconstruction, but we are fortunate that we see so few of them. Shelbi is a great example of when a multi-disciplinary team is needed. We were able to take care of her locally and it is a credit to Rapides Regional that this hospital had the resources available to do it.”

“I’m grateful,” said Shelbi. “It’s just scars, but to be able to take care of my babies at home by myself, I don’t have to depend on anybody else taking time to help me with them. I can do it myself fully. And I have been for four or five months now.”

“She’s pretty much able to do anything she wants or needs to,” said Mikey. “Especially with the kids so you can’t ask for nothing better than that.”

After she was able to hold Jackson and Stella for the first time after her arm was reattached, she said it was absolutely amazing.

“It made my heart so happy,” she said smiling.

Gordy is very satisfied with the results because she thought that Shelbi would have an arm but not be able to use it. And that scared her.

“You can put stuff back together all you want,” Skakun said. “But the question is, are you going to have a functional limb? It was an ongoing process where we continued to see improvement with each surgery and each visit. It’s quite exceptional based on how bad her injury was. She went from having a dead arm to having a functional arm with exceptional range of motion. Unless you were there, it’s hard to tell how far she’s come.”

“So, she’s hearing this for the first time,” Gordy said tearfully. “I couldn’t see her without an arm even if it didn’t work. I couldn’t make myself see that. But I’m grateful that God has given her the strength and the surgeries were a success story. And she can move her arm.”

Gordy watched Shelbi go through struggles every day and on some days she didn’t know how Shelbi was going to make it.

“And every day, she showed me more strength and more willpower,” she said. “And I knew she was going to be okay. I knew she was going to be okay.”

Since Shelbi is recovered and healed, she doesn’t have any stipulations on what she can or can’t do.

“I think everything healed up as perfectly as it could have,” she said.

The Poes don’t plan on doing any big Thanksgiving get-togethers because of the pandemic. There will be small ones at her mother’s and father’s homes. They plan to do single-family visits for her grandparents because of COVID-19.

“Other than that, we’re going to spend it as thankful as we could be,” she said.

This experience has taught her that she is capable of adapting when unexpected things happen. And that she can still make and have a great life.

“Nothing can stop you if you have the will to just push through and do it,” said Shelbi.

“And these babies,” she said, looking at Jackson who had his hand wrapped around her finger. “Were definitely my willpower to push through and be there for them.”