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'I got my arm. I can't complain'


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Jim Gibson , Canwest News Service

Thursday, October 16, 2008

VICTORIA - Shawn Clement knows that his left arm looks as if he lost out to the shark in Jaws. Sometimes the 30-year-old tells gawking strangers that's exactly what happened to his arm, now a tributary of scars running from his wasted bicep to below his elbow.

What actually happened to the former Gold River, B.C., shake and shingle mill worker is as horrific as anything Hollywood conjures up. In February, a flying 1.2-metre saw blade severed his left arm about 16 centimetres below the elbow.

Clement had chalked up about 15 years in the forestry industry by the time of his accident. Over the past two years, he had worked on-and-off as a sawyer, turning blocks of wood into shakes and shingles. He had been filling in as a sawyer since early January, and was just a few days away from a new posting. He wasn't comfortable around the two blades the job involves.

"I was scared of it for a long time," he adds, concerned about what he saw as limited escape room.

"Nothing ever happens," he was assured, but his concerns became a brutal reality in the early afternoon of Feb. 21. Suddenly, one fast-spinning blade looked terribly wrong. He knew it was coming off.

"Son of a *****! Fifteen years and this is how it's going to end," Clement thought as he fled. "I ran away. It caught up to me."

The blade pinned him to the mill floor, breaking his nose and several teeth.

"My buddies were on it fast - it seemed like an eternity - they all thought I was dead. They pulled the saw off of me.

"My face hurt. I went to grab my face. My hand was gone. I got up and grabbed the stub that was left and ran to the first aid room."

He was heavily sedated for the helicopter ride to Royal Jubilee Hospital.

His severed arm had been wrapped in moist sterile sponges, placed in a plastic bag and set in a bucket of iced, saline fluid.

A Victoria medical team reattached it during an 11-hour operation starting that evening. Almost 24 hours after his accident, Clement woke up to see his mother and ex-wife in the hospital room. He looked down at his heavily padded arm and thought, "Wow. It's cool. It's an arm."

"I looked at my mom and ex-wife and they were crying," Clement says.

"I got my arm. I can't complain," Clement says eight months later. At the time, they weren't even giving him 50/50 odds.

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