COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Brent Waddell stands with his wife Shelly at their home in Alexander. Waddell nearly lost his arm after a boating accident in August.
When his 16-foot boat was careening toward him as he was treading water on Sandy Lake, Brent Waddell thought he was a goner.
While driving his boat across the lake to a campsite where he and his wife would be spending the August long weekend, he hit a wake that caused his hand to bounce off the steering wheel. Seconds later, the boat veered sharply, throwing Waddell off the side.
Going about 15 miles per hour, the driverless boat was travelling in circles and came back around toward him, but Waddell managed to push the hull of the boat away.
But when the boat came around once more, he found himself under the hull with the 80-horsepower Mercury propeller coming right for him.
"I could see the motor, 15 or 20 feet away from me," Waddell recalled from his home in Alexander. "When the hull went over my head, I just kind of kissed my ass goodbye."
The engine tore through the humerus bone of his left arm.
Still conscious, he was able to swim with one arm to get away from the unbound boat.
Losing a short battle to exhaustion and blood loss, he said he thought he had taken his final breath when a man on a Sea-Doo pulled Waddell up by his left arm to keep him from drowning.
A nearby group on a pontoon boat threw a rope to drag the Sea-Doo toward them, Waddell’s arm still partially attached to his body.
"There was an amazing amount of blood loss in the water," he said. "The water was just red when I got up onto the pontoon boat."
Twenty-two hours had passed between the accident and when Waddell had surgery at the Health Science Centre in Winnipeg. With his arm wide open, time was dwindling to reattach the limb.
During the five-hour procedure, an orthopedic surgeon worked on the severed bone and a plastic surgeon sewed the nerves and muscles back together. Waddell’s arm was salvaged, but not without complications.
Extensive nerve damage claimed the use of his other arm after he spent the entire procedure lying on his side. Though he awoke to find his left arm had been reattached, the farm worker and mechanic lost use of both.
It will take many months before his limp hands will be able to grip and likely years before he makes a full recovery, with several more procedures expected in the future.
"We don’t know what we’re in for. We just do it one day at a time," said his wife Shelly. "Even though a lot of days you don’t feel lucky, we know how lucky Brent was."
Due to the financial pressure of medical bills and Waddell’s lost income after the accident, family members have organized a Halloween benefit social for the couple at the Valleyview Community Centre in Brandon next Saturday. Tickets are $15.
"He is a determined and courageous man that would fight tooth and nail to overcome this tragedy on his own, but I honestly believe that he deserves all of the love and support that he has received, is receiving, and will continue to receive," Leanne Williamson, Shelly’s daughter, said in an email.
"We continue to have faith that, through his hard work and determination in putting in long hours of physiotherapy, combined with the love, support and prayers that he and our family are receiving, he will be able to make a full recovery."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 19, 2013