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Brett Bouchard was cleaning an industrial pasta maker at an Italian restaurant in Massena, New York, when the machine turned on and his arm got caught. Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/Pool
Brett Bouchard was cleaning an industrial pasta maker at an Italian restaurant in Massena, New York, when the machine turned on and his arm got caught. Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/Pool

Massena 17 year-old doing well with re-attached arm

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Four weeks ago Friday, a med flight helicopter landed at Massachusetts General Hospital, carrying a 17-year Massena boy.

It was just after midnight. A hastily assembled team of surgeons, nurses and anesthetists was waiting to try to reattach Brett Bouchard's right arm, ripped off just below the elbow.

WBUR's Martha Bebinger picks up the story.

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Brett Bouchard's tragedy started in the basement of Violi's, an Italian restaurant in Massena. He was cleaning an industrial pasta maker when it appears the machine turned on. "My arm got caught in it, obviously got severed, after that I went upstairs, put a tourniquet on and went to the hospital."

Brett Bouchard's arm before the surgery, left, and after. Photo: courtesy MGH
Brett Bouchard's arm before the surgery, left, and after. Photo: courtesy MGH
Doctors are impressed with Bouchard's quick thinking.

"It wasn't a sharp cut. His arm had actually been sort of pulled off which makes it a more difficult injury to treat." That's Dr. Kyle Eberlin. He and Dr. Curt Cetrulo knew that most patients in Bouchard's condition would lose their arm. Surgery to reattach the arm would be long and complicated, which left the doctors with a difficult decision they had to make almost immediately after Bouchard arrived.

"Do we put this kid's life at risk to save his dominant right hand?" Cetrulo remembered asking. "At the same time, he's a young 17-year-old kid and we think we have the tools to do it safely and successfully. That's why we elected to proceed."

Cetrulo, Eberlin and about a dozen other doctors and nurses spent 9-10 hours that Friday morning in the operating room with Bouchard. While some focused on connecting bone fragments with pins and plates, others found veins and arteries to replace what had been torn away.

Dr. Curt Cetrulo, left, and Dr. Kyle Eberlin made the difficult decision to try and reattach Bouchard's arm. Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/Pool
Dr. Curt Cetrulo, left, and Dr. Kyle Eberlin made the difficult decision to try and reattach Bouchard's arm. Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/Pool
"It's essentially a plumbing situation," Eberlin said, "where you have arteries that are coming down the arm, that allow blood flow into the hand. And you're missing a huge segment of those arteries and veins, so we have to do a bypass procedure to take veins from another part of the body, in this case his legs, to connect the arteries higher up in his arm to the arteries lower in his arm, similarly with the veins."

That was the first of four surgeries over the last month. Bouchard will likely need two more, to replace muscle too damaged to heal and to reconnect nerves. He doesn't have any feeling in his arm below the elbow yet and can't move his forearm, hand or fingers. if all goes according to plan, his nerves will grow back down his arm, restoring the use of his right hand. Dr. Cetrula says Bouchard's attitude is helping speed his recovery.

"Other than being a Canadiens fan, he's incredible, He's a really nice kid and he's working hard to get better."

Cetrulo jokes about the Bruins loss this week to the Montreal Canadiens, the team Bouchard cheered for.

"I did, but I mean, this is life changing, now I might have to switch to Boston."

Brett Bouchard sits with his mother in his room at MGH. Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/Pool
Brett Bouchard sits with his mother in his room at MGH. Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/Pool
Bouchard says he confident he'll get back to hunting, fishing and snowboarding, the things he loves to do most. He see no reason to change his plans for a career in renewable energy. And how has he managed to stay so positive? Bouchard looks at his mom and the cards and pictures that fill the walls of his hospital room. He says he never thought much about God before, but "after this event, it really has shown me that God is there and God is real, because if it wasn't for God, I don't know if I would have been able to get through this."

Bouchard looks forward to his release early this week, to feeling the breeze on his face again, and getting to see a little bit of the city outside the hospital where doctors put him back together.

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