A Leg to Stand On

Amputation: A Split Decision

William Jeracki probably understands Aron Ralston's ordeal better than most. On October 6, 1993, Jeracki, a 38-year-old anesthetist from Conifer, Colorado, was fishing alone on a small creek near St. Mary's Glacier, outside Denver, when he accidentally dislodged a large boulder, which landed on his left leg and crushed it.

Jeracki knew a snowstorm was forecast for that evening but had not left word with anyone about where he was going. Now, wearing only light clothes, he didn't believe he'd survive the night. He had to make a choice: amputate his leg or wait for help and risk dying of exposure. After three hours he pulled a pocketknife from his tackle box, tied off his leg with fishing line, and began sawing through his flesh at the knee. He sliced through tendons, nerves, and his patellar ligament until his femur slid out of the knee socket. Once free, he crawled to his truck, then managed to drive the stick shift a half-mile to Alice–St. Mary's, where he was air-evacuated to Denver's University of Colorado Hospital. Searchers recovered his severed leg, but surgeons were unable to reattach it. Today, Jeracki, who uses a prosthetic leg, declines to be interviewed about the incident, but it has had a profound impact on the course of his life—afterwards, he went back to school to become a licensed prosthetist.

After his escape, Jeracki told the Associated Press, "I'll never know if that was the best possible decision. But I'm here. I feel lucky to be alive."

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