Boy 'healing nicely' after reattachment of severed arm


The elements of calamity were unlikely ones: an art smock from school, tied around a young boy's waist, and a short ride on a motorbike.

Less than three weeks after his near-fatal accident, Aaron Thompson, a spunky 7-year-old from Queenstown, is doing well, according to his doctor.

Aaron's left forearm, severed by the wheel of the off-road dirtbike, was reattached by a team of surgeons in a 10-hour operation at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Aaron went home Saturday, his arm in a splint but with a smile on his face, says Dr. Kyle D. Bickel, assistant professor of plastic surgery who performed the procedure, the first such reattachment in the hospital's history.

"The arm is healing nicely," says Dr. Bickel, adding that Aaron may require further surgery in the future. "I'd expect him to recover some use of the hand; only time will tell how much."

The people who intervened to save Aaron's life on June 5 near his Eastern Shore home will never forget those frantic minutes.

And the incident raises questions about whether the miniature motorcycles known as dirtbikes are too powerful for young children, even when operated responsibly.

In mid-afternoon, Aaron and a 12-year-old friend, a neighbor, arrived at the friend's house from school. The friend, whose family has a dirtbike, was giving Aaron a ride home, across a large field that separates their houses.

Aaron had tied his art smock around his waist. The boys set off, not on Wye Harbor Drive but beside it, moving at a slow speed, perhaps 5 to 10 miles an hour.

"They were having fun," recalls Richard Dudley, a courier for Federal Express who was driving past and watched the incident unfold. "Then [Aaron] fell off the back of the cycle, tumbled two or three times and came up, arms extended. Except that when he came up, he had only one arm."

Rescue workers believe that either Aaron's smock became entangled in the rear wheel, dragging him into the whirring spokes, or that he was injured lowering his arm to pull the flapping cloth away from the rear wheel.

Almost immediately, says Mr. Dudley, the other child stopped the bike and turned around. There, wrapped tightly in the torn smock and caught in the wheel, was Aaron's forearm.

Mr. Dudley, of Dover, Del., reacted quickly, honking his horn to alert neighbors. Then he rushed to Aaron's side.

"I took off my Fed Ex polo shirt and wrapped it around the stub," the courier recalls. "Then I took off my T-shirt and used it as a tourniquet, tying it just above the stub.

"A 7-year-old's arm is only so big."

Meanwhile, neighbors had called 911. Jim Lewis, a postal worker and volunteer firefighter, was driving nearby when his communications radio crackled: small child, possible amputation of arm.

"I thought I could help," says the Grasonville resident, who sped to the scene and helped stop the bleeding in Aaron's upper arm. "I just held onto the pressure point and didn't let go," says Mr. Lewis.

While the injured child was being comforted, Josie Simons, a Queen Anne's County paramedic, gently removed Aaron's forearm from the wheel of the motorbike, in hopes that the limb could be saved.

"We were meticulous in removing that arm," Ms. Simons says. "It took three of us to do it -- one man lifted the cycle and another turned the wheel while I manipulated the arm."

The smock, she says, had made its own tourniquet around the severed limb, reducing blood loss.

Ms. Simons put the forearm in a sterile plastic bag, which was placed inside a neighbor's ice-filled cooler; a pillow went atop the bag as protection during the state police helicopter trip that swept Aaron to Hopkins.

Dirtbikes are two-wheeled recreational vehicles often marketed to pre-teen children, according to one Baltimore-area dealer. The motorbikes in this class weigh about 140 pounds, can exceed 30 mph and cost $1,200 or more.

"There are many, many [dirtbikes] out there," says Jim Lang, spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. Because they are off-road vehicles with small engines, dirtbikes are neither registered by the state nor regulated by federal motor vehicle safety laws, he says.

More than 13,000 American children are injured each year in accidents involving dirtbikes and other small motorbikes, according to the Hopkins Children's Center.

At home in Queen Anne's County, Aaron is able to enjoy some of the pursuits of summer. "He's been out kicking the soccer ball around," says Glenn Pippin, Aaron's uncle, who lives with the Thompsons. "He's been pretty good about" adjusting to his injury.

"He's a lucky, lucky boy. Very gutsy too," says Ms. Simons, the paramedic who on June 5 crossed her own fingers in the hope that Aaron someday could do the same.

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