19 Jul Farm Safety Week Pt 1 | Chainsaw accident a timely reminder to farmers
‘Two dumb mistakes’ – that’s how Denis Horne describes a chainsaw accident on his hobby farm that has ruined his love of running forever and could very easily have claimed his life.
On top of the horrific and permanent physical injuries to his left leg, Denis has had to overcome flashbacks and learn to manage the psychological trauma of the event.
Thankfully, adrenalin helped both Denis and his wife Lyn do what was required to save his life in that frightful moment on March 2, 2012.
Lyn, who has always had a real fear of blood (hemophobia), swung into fight-mode and, while stoic at the time, weeks later she would pass out just talking about what happened.
They shared their story in our Winter Quarterly to help mark National Farm Safety Week which is held in the third week of July each year, to raise awareness of farm safety issues in rural communities across Australia.
Denis Horne, 71, retired from a long teaching career in Camperdown and Timboon at the end of last year.
He is also well known for his sporting prowess – particularly athletics. The 400 metres was his pet event. He represented Victoria and NSW in the 400 metres, but also won over 120 metres in the Ballarat Gift, Caulfield Gift and Rye Gift.
He was still running competitively in veterans races nine years ago when a tree fell down 30 metres from the couple’s house on their 15 acre hobby farm just outside Timboon.
Shortly after lunchtime on Friday, March 2nd 2012, Denis sharpened his chainsaw and went to clean up the fallen tree. Seconds later a real-life nightmare unfolded.
“I was just starting the saw and I sat it on top of the tree to pull the starter. I made two dumb mistakes – I didn’t check the tree was stable and I didn’t check the chain break was on,” he said.
“The chainsaw started, the tree rolled off its own stump which it was resting on and pinned me on the ground.
“It was like it was in slow motion. I could see the chainsaw…the choke was still out so, so it was roaring, I couldn’t do anything and then it fell onto my left leg.”
Denis said adrenalin did its job and somehow he got out from under the tree but the damage was done.
“In that moment there wasn’t a great deal of pain. I remember thinking, oh I’ve cut my jeans,” he said.
“But once I pulled my jeans back I knew I was in trouble. It had torn away a lot of flesh…cut through everything down to the bone and through the fibula. It was pretty clear I’d cut arteries, there was… it was pretty clear.
“I whipped my belt off and put it around my leg as tight as I possibly could, called out to Lyn and thankfully she heard me, got the car, helped me get inside and drove me up to Timboon hospital.”
Denis said Lyn drove right up to the door, so close they opened, and he was able to get out.
“There were four nurses and they were wonderful. They grabbed a wheelchair and took me into the accident and emergency room and took turns putting pressure on it and soaking up the blood with towels,” he said.
“They got me under control and then an ambulance arrived to take me to Warrnambool. I was fortunate that reconstructive surgeon Robert Toma had just started at St John of God down there.
“Because I’d eaten lunch, it was six hours before they could operate on me. Lyn and I were both doing okay…we were joking and keeping things pretty light. I remember she brought me over a pair of shoes and I said ‘that’s one shoe too many’.”
Denis underwent a six-hour operation to reconstruct his left leg. The surgery included removing a nerve from his arm and inserting it into his damaged leg, as well as repairing the bone, muscle and tissue.
“They said the tendon transplant was worth a try, but might not be successful and it wasn’t. I didn’t walk for six weeks after that and was in a cast for longer. When it came off I started doing physio – lots of swimming,” he said.
“Proper use of my leg will never come back though – it drags a bit and I can’t feel it. But I set myself a goal to get more serious about cycling.
“There was a 500km ride in East Timor seven months later. I got myself a stationary bike and got to work training for that…and I was able to do it.
“I can jog 10km very slowly now, but I do much more cycling now since the accident.”
Denis said farm safety was an important focus for the region and if telling his story helped one person stay safe then it would be well worth it.
“It took me a long time to use the chainsaw again. I had some flashbacks – it freaked me out a bit. I tried to get back to work too quickly as well and realised there was some psychological trauma I needed to deal with first. We dealt with that though.
“I always start the chainsaw now with the chain break on, I always have my phone with me if I’m working alone now, I always wear a hardhat and I even wear kevlar chainsaw pants.
“We’re just so fortunate TDHS was there for me when I needed it. If it wasn’t, I think with the blood loss I’d have been in real trouble.
“Looking back we were both pretty stoic in the moment. For Lyn, the human body kicked in and did what it needed to look after me. Her blood phobia is very real, she was amazing. Weeks later it caught up with her and she passed out on the couch just talking about it.”
Denis said his accident was one of the main reasons he became an Ambulance Community Officer in recent years – a role he now found incredibly rewarding.