Factory worker reclaims hand, and life

Arthur Ince was working in a factory, manually adjusting large pieces of machinery, when one small distraction would change his life.

A machine head fell on his left shoulder, causing his right arm to lunge forward just as a 500-pound, 450 degree barrel fell - crushing, burning and severing the nerves on top of his right hand, from his knuckles to his fingertips. In trying to free his right hand, he also severely burned the palm of his left hand.

Arthur's life was put on hold, in 2004, when "Doctors were thinking of taking my fingers off," he says.

A month after his accident he found a better alternative. Dr. Joel Fish, a burn specialist surgeon at acute care partner Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, performed seven operations to save Arthur's fingers. Arthur was then referred to St. John's Rehab where Dr. Fish, currently the Chief of Staff and the Medical Director of the burn rehab program, oversaw Arthur's recovery with a team of specialists.

Arthur could barely move his left shoulder and wrist. He was also recovering from major nerve damage, loss of skin and tissue, and stitches that held what flesh was remaining on his hands. "The pain was unheard of," says Arthur. He also had stomach problems from pain pills and he couldn't sleep.

"The hardest motion to relearn was pinching," says Arthur. He worked with an occupational therapist and physiotherapist to regain strength and function in his hand and shoulder; while a psychologist helped him deal with pain and kept his mind off the feelings of self-consciousness. Arthur remembers his nurse and social worker telling him, "We're going to look after you from now on - you work on getting better."

One of Arthur's biggest challenges was relearning to cook. "It took two and a half years just to get over my fear, just to let go and unclasp my hands, around heat elements." His goal was to make some traditional food for the staff that helped him during his recovery - and he did. As one of seven brothers who were known as chefs in the kitchen, this was a big hurdle and an important step back in contributing to family life.

Arthur was discharged in May 2008 and today, he is a success story. He has all of his fingers, and with some minor adjustments, specialized care and a strong support team at St. John's Rehab, Arthur is back to his life and his family. He is independent, confident and a role model.

"St. John's Rehab is the best place to be treated in the world," says Arthur. Though he's no longer a patient here, it's quite common to see the faces of staff and patients light up when he visits. According to Arthur, "it's much harder to leave than it is to get better at St. John's Rehab."