MAYWOOD, Ill. – Strangers often stop to ask Bob Seeman why he wears a padded glove on his left hand.
Rather than launching into a long explanation, Seeman hands the questioner a card with a link to a video he recently posted on YouTube.
The 10-minute video tells the extraordinary story of how Seeman’s left arm was reattached at Loyola University Medical Center after it was nearly completely severed in a tow truck accident.
The padded glove protects the palm of his hand, which is a bit sensitive to pain. And because of poor circulation, Seeman needs to wear a sleeve in the winter to keep his arm warm. But otherwise, his arm has retained about 98 percent of its normal function.
“If I wasn’t wearing a glove, no one would ever guess that my arm had been reattached,” said Seeman, who lives in Mokena, Ill. “It’s such a miraculous story, I want to tell people about it. It’s difficult to tell the whole story verbally, and I usually leave something out. So my wife, Carol, and I made this video."
Seeman is approaching the 30th anniversary of the accident, which occurred April 30, 1984. At the time, he was working in the family tow truck business when he was called to the scene of an overturned semitrailer. His arm got caught in a mechanism that winds and unwinds the tow truck cable. Nearly severed, his arm was left hanging by the skin.
In a marathon surgery, orthopaedic surgeon Michael Pinzur, MD, plastic surgeon Juan Angelats, MD, and vascular surgeon William Baker, MD, worked together to reattach Seeman’s arm.
They sewed nerves, blood vessels, muscles and tendons together and used plates and screws to reconnect his broken humerus (upper arm bone). They took bone grafts from his hips and skin grafts from his leg, and used a vein from his leg to replace a damaged artery in his arm.
Many limb reattachments ultimately fail. The limb can die due to poor circulation, retain little or no movement or become so painful due to nerve damage that it must be amputated.
But Seeman experienced none of those problems. After several follow-up surgeries and a year of occupational therapy, he recovered nearly full use of his arm.
“Sometimes in life we don’t appreciate something until we lose it, and then it’s too late,” he says in the video. “It seems that hundreds of times over the years I’d be playing with my children, picking them up high in the air with two good arms, and it hits me like a lightning bolt how fortunate and thankful I am for a second chance.”