Life and limb: A train accident victim lost two legs but gained two lives

In the span of two weeks, train accident victim Kyle Hannon lost two legs but gained two lives – his own and his daughter’s – at VCU Medical Center

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“I kept telling myself to stay calm. In order to survive, I had to stay calm.”

On Sept. 15, 2014, Kyle Hannon’s workday went from ordinary to extraordinary in a matter of seconds.

Thirty-year-old Kyle is a switchman at a Richmond-area steel mill. That day, he was switching out full rail cars with empty ones used for product shipping in an area where two tracks run closely parallel. He heard a train coming but didn’t realize he was on the wrong track until it was too late.

“The train hit me from behind and pulled my legs under,” Kyle said. “I managed to keep the rest of my body from getting pinned under the wheel, but I was dragged about 50 yards.”

Conscious through the entire ordeal, Kyle recalls the accident vividly.

“It felt like a dream, like it wasn’t really happening to me,” he said. “The pain was electric, the nerves in my legs were humming; it was a buzzing feeling, not a sharp pain.”

Kyle managed to call for help over his radio and on-site paramedics responded. Within 20 minutes, he was loaded onto a Virginia Commonwealth University LifeEvac helicopter.

“It was on the helicopter when I heard they were taking me to VCU Medical Center and I felt a sense of relief because I knew I was going to be in good hands,” Kyle said. “I stayed focused on my wife and unborn daughter. I knew I wanted to be there for them, so I had to stay calm. Staying calm was my best chance of survival.”

Saving life vs. saving limbs

VCU Medical Center is a designated Level 1 trauma center, a comprehensive regional resource that provides total care for every aspect of injury from prevention through rehabilitation.

When Kyle arrived at the emergency department, both legs were completely mangled, and he was hypotensive and suffering from extreme blood loss. He had a very high mortality rate because of his physiological status and the severity of the  trauma injury, but none of that deterred the trauma team that was prepped and waiting for him.

“We had to stop the bleeding first,” said Paula Ferrada, M.D., medical director of the trauma intensive care unit. “Kyle bled more than half his blood volume. He was near coding. We knew immediately this was going to be a lifesaving procedure versus a limb-saving procedure.”

In order to save Kyle’s life, they had to amputate both of his legs. Ferrada recalls breaking the news to his pregnant wife.

“She had such a positive attitude,” Ferrada said. “She told me to do whatever I had to do to save him.”

After about 10 minutes in the trauma resuscitation bay, Kyle was rushed to the operating room. First, Ferrada stopped the bleeding. Then orthopedic surgeons performed the double amputation.

Ferrada is certain any mistakes would have caused Kyle to bleed out and die.

Kyle is very young; his wife was expecting their first child. Deciding to amputate both legs was not a decision we took lightly, but it was a matter of life or death.

“That’s the difference when a patient receives care at a Level 1 trauma center,” Ferrada said. “Kyle is very young; his wife was expecting their first child. Deciding to amputate both legs was not a decision we took lightly, but it was a matter of life or death.”

After Kyle was stabilized and the amputation was complete, he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit, where he vaguely recalls waking up following surgery.

“I remember the feeling of the tube in my throat,” Kyle said. “I knew something was majorly wrong. I asked for something to write with and I asked if I still had my legs and for my wife.”

Kyle’s life was changed forever, but he was about to experience yet another life-changing event.

A change of plans

Samantha Hannon was 37 weeks pregnant at the time of her husband’s accident and was supposed to give birth at another hospital. Kyle’s accident changed their plans.

“I knew the only way Kyle was going to be there for the birth of our daughter was if I delivered at VCU Medical Center,” Samantha said.

Part of taking care of trauma patients is taking care of their family. Ferrada knew Kyle needed to be at Samantha’s side, just like Samantha had been at his. However, with the complexities of Kyle’s injury, moving him to another unit wasn’t a simple task. Ferrada began coordinating arrangements with Kyle’s nurses, as well as with the labor and delivery unit.

“The staff was incredible throughout this whole thing,” Samantha said. Kyle’s care team arranged for him to be transferred to the delivery room in his bed so that he could be beside his wife. Trauma nurses volunteered to work in shifts to provide Kyle the care he needed. One nurse in particular, Cameron Harris, stayed around the clock.

“She took care of all of us,” Samantha said.

Sadie Lee Hannon was born on Sept. 28, 2014, a healthy 7 pounds, 13 ounces in weight and 20 inches long. Though bed-bound, Kyle was there to welcome his daughter into the world.

Kyle and Samantha Hannon welcome their baby daughter Sadie in the Labor and Delivery Unit at VCU Medical Center, just 13 days after Kyle’s accident.
Kyle and Samantha Hannon welcome their baby daughter Sadie in the Labor and Delivery Unit at VCU Medical Center, just 13 days after Kyle’s accident.

“I am forever grateful for everyone that saved Kyle’s life and made it possible for him to be there for the birth of our daughter,” Samantha said.

A perfect symphony of care

“Kyle’s story is really a good example of our system of care working how it is supposed to,” Ferrada said. “I consider him to be fully recovered, because he received the best possible outcome, which was saving his life.”

There were several points in Hannon’s care that could have turned for the worse; it is the attention to detail by every member of the team that made the difference, which is why Ferrada says she loves working in trauma.

“There is no time for second-guessing. We act like we train. We train to act in an expeditious manner with a deteriorating patient,  so when we are faced with a real-life situation, it comes to us as second nature.”

Kyle’s goal is to do everything he was able to do before the accident — and more.
Kyle’s goal is to do everything he was able to do before the accident — and more.

Medically, Kyle is considered a bilateral above-knee amputee. He received two prosthetic legs in late February and is already walking again.

Ferrada attributes Hannon’s recovery to the quickness and thoughtfulness of the entire team that provided care.

“It started with the pre-hospital providers, they are the ones that really saved his life by knowing exactly what to do to keep him alive while transporting him to the hospital,” Ferrada said. “The emergency department team kept Kyle from coding. In the operating room, the team got the bleeding under control before amputating. Infection control made sure everything was done as safely as possible to reduce the chance of causing additional harm. Most importantly, Kyle was very much part of the team. He really understood that to get a trauma patient better, the patient has to be in it 100 percent for a full recovery.”

Kyle and Samantha are now planning for Sadie’s first trip to the beach.

“My wife and baby girl are the reason I stay positive and never give up hope,” Kyle said. “I am so blessed.”


Feature image by Tom Kojcsich, VCU University Marketing. Other photos provided by the Hannon family.

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