With the help of a healing hand
Dr. Sarah Jones will never forget the exact moment of the accident that changed her life and came perilously close to ending her career as a pediatric surgeon. It was 11:20 am, August 8, 2009.
Fall was coming, and Jones and her husband, Ramiro Arellano, were collecting wood for their furnace. The two were splitting logs in a woodlot, at their rural home near Kingston.
Jones and Arellano – who’s also a doctor, an anaesthetist – came to Queen’s in 2005 to settle down. “We picked Kingston because of its size, the proximity to grandparents, and the medical facilities,” recalls Jones.
The couple bought an old farmhouse, and they and their two young children began keeping chickens, built a barn, and talked about getting some sheep.
All of their hopes and dreams were put in jeopardy when Jones sustained a traumatic hand injury. She lost the three middle fingers on her right hand – her working hand.
Jones remembers her first thought: “I won’t ever be a surgeon again.”
Within hours of the accident, Jones was in the operating room at Kingston General Hospital (KGH). Plastic surgeons John Davidson, Artsci’77, MSc’80, Meds’82, and Kimberley Meathrel, Artsci’96, Meds’00, spent the next 12 hours painstakingly re-attaching Jones’ fingers.
She was in the hospital for two weeks. Part of her post-surgery treatment included leech therapy while new veins grew in her hand. “We had quite a time with the leeches,” says Jones in her soft British accent. “They kept escaping from my hand and roaming all over the room.”
Those first days of post-operative care were only the beginning of Jones’s long, daunting road to recovery. She tried hard not to think about her uncertain future. “Nobody really knew what, if anything, was possible,” she says.
The road back began with regular rehabilitation sessions at the Hand Clinic within the Hotel Dieu Hospital’s Orthopedics Department, where Jones came under the care of Juliana Lacocerie Salgado, MSc’06, an occupational therapist with expertise in hand therapy. She and Jones have a couple of common traits: an astonishing capacity for perseverance and a passion for their work.
In September 2010, 13 months after the accident, Salgado watched as Jones “sutured” a piece of fabric, the dexterity in her fingers nearly back to normal.
Therapist and patient worked together for most of a year. They did exercises to help Jones recover her fine motor skills, but they also talked about possible new career goals for Jones.
In January 2010, five months after the accident she still couldn’t bend her fingers well enough to resume her work. Discouraged and frustrated, she began learning to use her left hand.
Meanwhile, Jones’s husband chanced to see a documentary in which a man with a badly damaged hand regained full use of his hand through a series of surgeries and rehabilitations. Jones was initially reluctant, but she finally agreed to consider the idea. Arellano then called Dr. Bing Siang Gan, a plastic surgeon he knew at the Hand and Upper Limb Centre at the University of Western Ontario.
Gan operated on Jones three times. After each operation, she continued her rehab sessions with Salgado. The day after the first surgery, Jones called Salgado to tell her she could not make her post-op appointment. “I was feeling a bit sorry for myself,” says Jones. “But Juliana told me, ‘You can do this, Sarah.’” And she did.
In September 2010, 13 months after the accident, Salgado watched as Jones “sutured” a piece of fabric, the dexterity in her fingers nearly back to normal. It was a breathtaking moment for both patient and occupational therapist.
There was one more step Jones had to take before she knew she was fully recovered. In December 2010, she traveled to Halifax, where she’d done a two-year Fellowship in Pediatric General Surgery, after completing her General Surgery at both Dalhousie University and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Jones was ready to perform her first post-accident surgery. “I wanted to go back to where I’d trained,” she says.
Jones’s return to the operating room and her career has been a success. She is now Head of Pediatrics at Queen’s, KGH, and the Hotel Dieu Hospitals.