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Jason Leland, 28, of Glenoma, is not a parent, but he’ll never forget Mother’s Day 2023. It wasn’t a gift he received but a life curveball. Housesitting for a coworker, he was surprised when the property owner’s dogs broke into a fight. Jason responded by instinct, alone. Not thinking about his actions, he tried to pull the dogs apart. One of the dogs grabbed Jason’s left hand, biting onto the base of the thumb and giving the hand a jerk with a fling of his head. He then let go of the hand and went immediately back to fighting the other dog.

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Jason was first treated in the Emergency Room at Arbor Health – Morton Hospital. Photo courtesy: Arbor Health – Morton Hospital

A Trip to Arbor Health Morton Hospital Emergency Room

Jason says when he pulled his arm back and looked at his hand, his thumb was frozen in an unnatural bent-back position and bleeding profusely. His girlfriend, Maddie Hallenbeck, grabbed a towel, wrapped it up and drove him to Arbor Health—Morton Hospital. Both are Arbor Health employees, so they know their way around pretty well, him more than her. She is a medical assistant in the Rapid Care Clinic, and he works in the Facilities Engineering Department. His position has him in and out of every area of the facility, including the emergency department (ED). This time, though, he was the patient.

Morton Hospital’s ED doctor that day was General Surgeon Tom Anderson. Dr. Anderson quickly stitched him up enough to stop the bleeding and sent him to the Imaging Department for X-rays. The results of which were such as sending Jason to a trauma surgeon.

Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle was packed with patients when Jason arrived. So much so that he was there for 30 hours before they got him into surgery. Because he was in stable condition, other patients were given higher priority. In fact, in all of that time, he was never moved into a patient room. He was on a gurney in the hallway, sectioned off with a curtain for privacy. This is not reflective of the severity of his injuries, though, only the number of patients in the hospital. The thumb was all but torn off. The bone was broken in three places and shattered right above the knuckle that sits next to the webbing between the thumb and forefinger. He came out of surgery with six pins holding his thumb together.

Jason was ready for therapy after progressing through two different types of casts. His surgeon wanted him to receive therapy either in Seattle or Olympia, where there are certified hand specialists available. However, Jason wanted to continue his care back at Arbor Health—Rehabilitation Clinic. He did not want to drive to Seattle, or even Olympia, every week. Plus, he was confident his friend and coworker Karli could provide his needed care.

Occupational therapy Arbor Health
Karli uses special tools for deep tissue massage, working on the range of motion. Photo courtesy: Arbor Health – Morton Hospital

Personal Friend and Occupational Therapist Help Jason Recover

“I knew Jason before he started working at the hospital,” explains Karli Devoe, MS, OTR/L. She recalls that a mutual friend brought Jason to her home to help move a small cabin onto the property. The two hit it off and developed a lasting friendship.

Jason reached out to Karli and asked her advice on how to have therapy in Morton. She told him to request his therapy referral be made to Morton Hospital.

Karli explained that she was definitely qualified without the additional certification. “Occupational therapists (OTs) and physical therapists can both become certified hand therapists, but it is a very extensive process requiring 5,000 hours of patient treatment. A lot of OTs are excellent hand therapists without ever pursuing the CHT title.”

But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a bit nervous because of the severity of his injury. “This was a major injury with fractures and severed tendon,” she explains. As a certified occupational therapist, Karli has treated many hand injuries — many patients recovering from hand fractures and many patients recovering from severed tendons — but this was both. It was definitely not a common situation.

Karli is proud to report that while Jason’s physician wanted him to go to a large facility, he has been pleased with Jason’s progress, to the point that he’s called other physicians into the exam room on his follow-up appointments to see the results.

“Every time I went there, there were four or five lab coats in there, asking if they could look at my hand,” Jason says in good humor.

“They predicted a lot less mobility and range of motion,” Karli explains, not because of the therapy but because of the severity of his wounds.

Jason started occupational therapy on June 12. The treatment was, of course, limited at first while he continued to heal. Karli said they couldn’t test his grip strength until July 31, which came in at 15 pounds.

Occupational therapy Arbor Health
Occupational Therapist Karli Devoe regularly measures Jason’s flexibility and range of motion. Photo courtesy: Arbor Health – Morton Hospital

Jason’s Remarkable Recovery With the Help of Arbor Health

The average grip strength for a man Jason’s age ranges from 82-136 pounds. But Jason’s kept getting stronger and stronger, surpassing the top end of the average. Karli was amazed the first time he tested at 160 pounds and almost didn’t believe it at first. In fact, she says with a laugh that she doesn’t think she’d ever seen a patient recovering from a hand injury with a 160-pound grip strength.

Today, sitting at the table with Karli for photos, Jason gave the dynamometer a hard squeeze just for fun, and it read 190 pounds. He then did the same with his right hand, which is his dominant hand, and it measured 175. The non-dominant hand being stronger than the other is not normal. “I was really surprised by that,” she says.

Jason still has a bit of numbness and tingling. “There was a lot of nerve damage with his thumb almost completely torn off,” Karli explains. “We are trying to increase his range of motion and working really hard to increase the webbing space (between his thumb and forefinger). They are using massages, massage tools, and ultrasound once a week. “And we’ve done really well. That used to be pulled tight,” she says, pointing to the widened webbed space.

 “This is definitely one of the more complex cases I’ve had,” Karli said. “And it’s been fun working with a friend.” Jason agreed, saying they talk about all kinds of things while she works on his hand. He sometimes tells his girlfriend that he had “physical therapy and ‘the other’ therapy today too.”

Even aside from the therapy, Jason feels very grateful for Arbor Health. Some coworkers donated him their paid time off, and Katelin Forrest in Human Resources went above and beyond to help him access his employee benefits. She even completed the required paperwork for state assistance. Then in the end, she helped him to be able to get back to work. This was a “Mother’s Day gift” that kept on giving.

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