PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The split-second choices in a disaster of this magnitude can haunt forever.
Dr. Marc Grossman knows he had no choice but to choose life over limb, but of course, would have preferred another option.
An emergency room physician at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, Grossman is a member of the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.
The team, tunneling through debris at a collapsed school on Saturday, found a 15-year-old girl still alive.
But she was pinned. Her left arm was crushed under concrete.
|VIDEO: Doctor describes dramatic amputation and dual rescue|
If there were time, the team had the gear that could lift 25,000 pounds of rubble. They might have been able to shift the rubble just enough to get her arm out.
But there was no time.
"She was dying right in front of me," said Grossman.
A father of two, Grossman called a colleague back at Jackson Memorial to talk "amputation."
He said he got instructions from his colleague on how to perform an amputation, but the directions were as if he were working in a sterile operating home back home. This, of course was no operating room. And it was far from sterile.
In an opening, less than 12 inches high, the doctor inch-wormed his way to the teenager.
He knocked her out with drugs, and then with a scalpel, tried to cut.
It didn't work.
In that tiny space, it could not cut thru the bone.
He backed out and then slithered in with a surgical bone saw.
That didn't work either.
He had less than an inch of space to draw the blade back and forth.
Grossman backed out again and looked at what else the search team had.
There, in the pile of gear sat a circular saw.
"It's like a saw found in any Home Depot in America" said Grossman.
The team carries it to cut tree branches and other debris in disasters, but now it would become a surgical instrument.
Grossman worked his way back to the survivor.
With a tourniquet tied around her upper left arm, in one cut, he took off her arm.
He pulled her to freedom.
But there was more.
Just behind the now amputated survivor, there was another girl.
She was also still alive.
Had the first girl's arm not been amputated, "the other survivor would have surely died, too. There was no way to get to her but through the pinned survivor," said Grossman.
A split-second decision in the darkness of a tunnel through a collapsed building that saved not one, but two lives.