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Device helps injured farmer handle the job again

March 31, 2001

Device helps injured farmer handle the job again


KEEDYSVILLE - Randall Sebold is grateful that he can tie his shoes again. He no longer takes zipping his jacket for granted. And he's thrilled that he can once again earn a living on his Keedysville farm.

Sebold, 37, lost four fingers on his left hand in a November 2000 farming accident.

He's since been able to return to the work he loves, thanks to the efforts of a local certified hand therapist.

Katrina Darnell, an occupational therapist and hand clinic specialist at Total Rehab Care in Robinwood Medical Center, helped increase Sebold's range of motion. She also made him a plastic device, called an orthotic, that fits over his left hand and enables him to grasp objects with his thumb.


"I'm telling you, it's been a life-saver," Sebold said.

"I just love to farm," he said. "I love riding my tractor and planting things and watching them grow. I love taking care of my cows.

"They didn't understand why daddy couldn't go out to feed them."

Sebold was harvesting with his mechanical corn picker when he ran over a groundhog hole, popping open the machine's trailer gate. Corn began to spill out. Sebold jumped off his tractor to shut the gate.

That's when he noticed the stalk of corn sticking out of the corn picker - a machine that snaps ears off stalks, rips shucks from cobs and transfers shucked ears to a trailing wagon.

'Slurped me up'

Without turning off the machine, Sebold grabbed the corn stalk and pulled it toward him. The picker's fast-moving shucking rolls caught the stalk, pulling Sebold's left arm into the mouth of the machine.

"It just slurped me up like a spaghetti noodle," he said.

Sebold isn't the first Washington County farmer to be injured by farm machinery, and he probably won't be the last, said Don Schwartz, an extension agent for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

"We have a number of folks in the county who have lost hands and digits to corn pickers. We could go through one war story after another," Schwartz said.

It's easier, but much more dangerous, to unclog a piece of stuck corn when the machine is running, he said.

Sebold said he knew not to stick his hands into moving machinery parts, but he thought he was safe grabbing the corn stalk. He had no idea the machine would catch and ingest it so quickly, he said.

His first thought was to save his thumb.

"When you work alone on a farm, you've always got to think of ways to save yourself if something happens," Sebold said.

He fought the machine for five minutes, trying to free his hand. When he finally pulled it out, he said, it looked like "a skeleton with tendons on it."

Part of his thumb was intact but his fingers were badly mangled. The machine had stripped the flesh, nerves and veins from his left hand, said Sebold, who is right-handed.

He ran the half-mile back to his house and asked his girlfriend to call 911. Emergency workers from Boonsboro arrived quickly, assessed the injury and called for a helicopter to transport Sebold to Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

Doctors had to amputate Sebold's three middle fingers, pin his thumb with a metal rod and cover his hand with skin from his thigh.

Big challenges

When he went home, Sebold found that even small tasks presented big challenges. He couldn't open a can of cat food, tie his shoes or zip his coat. It was frustrating, he said.

"The cows were mooing for food outside and I couldn't even get dressed."

Sebold said he was in pain and concerned about his livelihood when he began therapy at the hand clinic in early December.

The clinic's therapists use specialized equipment, therapeutic techniques, splints and orthotic and prosthetic devices to treat about 350 patients a year for traumatic and repetitive motion hand injuries, Clinical Director Susan Brundige said.

Darnell, the occupational therapist who treated Sebold, used moist heat to help loosen his stiff forearm and self-adhesive wraps and massage to decrease his swelling. She increased his thumb's range of motion with gentle stretches and a special splint.

Darnell helped manage her patient's pain, and created an elastic-like mold to reduce the scarring that inhibits mobility.

She made Sebold's orthotic as a temporary solution until he recovers from a second surgery in early April.

Doctors will pad his injured hand with more tissue to protect the bones, which are covered by only a thin layer of skin, Sebold said.

He hopes to resume therapy and get a permanent prosthetic device called a farmer's hook. The device comes with a realistic hand attachment, but Sebold said he will get more mileage out of the hook and tool accessories.

The hand "looks pretty but I couldn't lift up a 100-pound bag of hay with it," he said.

"I've got work to do."

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