MU limb preservation team repairs man’s arm after devastating utility vehicle crash

A New Haven man’s arm was saved by an MU surgeon. (MGN Online)

As a passenger in a side-by-side utility vehicle, Jeff Bopp, 47, of New Haven, Missouri, was enjoying a ride on his father-in-law’s property on Sept. 2, 2017. That is, until the ride literally took a turn for the worse.

“We were leading a group of about 10 ATVs down a wooded trail,” Bopp said. “When we got to the end, the person driving our vehicle turned the wheel very sharply, and I saw his foot mashed on the accelerator. I knew it wasn’t going to be good.”

In the second or two before the vehicle flipped on its side, Bopp instinctively reached for the passenger-side grab bar. He missed.

The vehicle slammed to the ground, landing on Bopp’s right arm. The immediate, crushing force destroyed his entire forearm from his wrist to within an inch of his elbow.

Bopp was flown to University of Missouri Health Care’s Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center by the Staff for Life Helicopter Service. MU Health Care is the only health system in central Missouri to offer comprehensive, Level I trauma care.

The trauma team cleaned and assessed the wound. Bopp and his wife, Angela, felt certain he would lose his arm because of the catastrophic damage. However, the trauma team contacted Jay Bridgeman, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at MU Health Care who specializes in microvascular surgery. Bridgeman also helps lead MU’s Limb Preservation Center.

“Dr. Bridgeman was on vacation out of state at the time,” Bopp said. “He reviewed pictures and X-rays of my arm and recommended an attempt be made to save it. He then returned from vacation to help with the necessary surgeries.”

“To say that Mr. Bopp’s injury was severe would be an understatement,” Bridgeman said. “His right forearm essentially looked like a grenade had blown it apart. With so much damage, I knew that saving the limb would be difficult. However, we have a great limb preservation team and we all wanted to try for his sake.”

Bopp would undergo more than a dozen surgeries and a 30-day stay at MU Health Care to repair and reconstruct his arm. Both bones in his forearm ? which had been snapped in two as compound fractures ? were repaired. Missing tissue was replaced by Bridgeman using microsurgical flap procedures.

“In a flap procedure, we take tissue and vessels from one site — in this case, the back — and move it to the damaged area,” Bridgeman said. “Using a high-powered microscope, I connected the blood vessels of the flap tissue with the blood vessels in Mr. Bopp’s arm to restore blood supply. The transplanted tissue replaced what the accident destroyed and is now part of his arm.”

Bopp has more procedures to undergo, including one to reattach tendons and improve function in his hand. Already, though, he is able to pick things up, grasp tools, and brush his teeth with the injured hand.

“Mr. Bopp is making a great recovery,” Bridgeman said. “Successes like this are what drive our whole team. It’s why we do what we do.”

“I am very grateful,” Bopp said. “I never would have imagined they could do what they did to let me keep my arm and hand. A home nurse from St. Louis was doing some follow-up care with me. At one point he stood back and said, ‘You are a medical miracle!’ And he’s right. I had no idea a program like this existed right here in central Missouri. I am so glad I was taken to MU Health Care!”

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