By Kathy Walsh
DENVER (CBS4) – A cowboy from Wyoming lost his thumb last week while roping a steer at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. Now, he’s got it back thanks to the expertise of a local plastic surgeon and whoever wrapped the severed finger in gauze, put it in a plastic bag and then on ice.
“It just popped off and flew through the air,” Justin Johnson said with a chuckle.
The cowboy and rancher from outside of Casper, Wyoming, was matter-of-fact about what he lost last Tuesday.
“You know a little tug on your thumb, I’ve had it happen, close calls before,” he explained.
But this time, his thumb was gone.
“It was completely pulled off,” Johnson said from his hospital room.
The 48-year-old was competing at the National Western in a team rodeo event. He said he roped a steer by its hind feet, but when he wrapped the rope around the saddle horn, his thumb got stuck. The rope was like a knife and cut off the digit. Johnson said a friend had him keep his arm in the air.
“And then my son; he went and found my thumb which was still in the roping part of my glove,” said Johnson.
“Actually his son carried it in here and handed me the part,” explained Dr. David Schnur, a plastic surgeon at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center and Medical Director of the Denver Clinic for Extremities at Risk.
Just over three hours after the accident, Schnur reattached the thumb’s tiny blood vessels in a difficult, four-hour surgery. Days later, there was worry the thumb wasn’t working.
“I said, ‘Well, get some better duct tape or something,'” said Johnson.
Now, nearly a week after surgery, Schnur says so far, so good.
“I can’t wait to get back,” said Johnson.
But Johnson needs to hold his horses. Schnur said healing will take six to eight weeks. That’s plenty of time for the cowboy to get back in the saddle.
Schnur said the thumb will be numb because the nerves were pulled out, but Johnson should get 50 to 80 percent range of motion. If the thumb doesn’t reattach successfully, Johnson said he’s already thinking about how to keep on roping with the hand he’s got left.