Bill Parker's "Sunday fun day" came dangerously close to tragedy after a lawn mower propelled a 3.5-inch metal fence wire up his nose and into his head.
He didn't know what hit him.
"At first I thought a rock had flew out and hit me and struck me in the face," Parker, 34, said Wednesday. "It threw me back a little bit and it hurt real bad. I felt my face but I didn't feel any disfiguring or anything.
"I saw blood, so I knew I got a bloody nose."
After about 10 to 15 minutes of considering the injury, which he thought might be a broken cheekbone, he and his fiancée, Katie Heggins, decided it was best to go to a hospital.
"At first I thought it would be an in-out thing and they'd give me some aspirin and tell me to sleep it off," Parker said. "They started hooking things up to me, like an IV and heart monitor, and I started realizing things
were getting a little more serious."
What a CT scan Sunday at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport revealed was almost unimaginable.
The wire, as thick as a heavy-duty nail, had entered through Parker's left nostril and embedded itself in his sinus cavity beneath his eye socket, next to his jaw hinge.
"I'm grateful to be alive," he shared with family and friends on Facebook at 7:03 a.m. Monday, after waking from surgery. "Several doctors were completely amazed at what had happened to me and stressed how lucky I really am. The metal had somehow made its way through a tangle of really important nerves and arteries and finally rested about a millimeter from both carotid artery and my jugular vein.
"Guess it just wasn't my time yet."
The latest lawnmower injury statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are startling. Between 2011 and 2013, an average of 38,000 people each year were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for injuries related to walk-behind power mowers. The agency does not have statistics on the number of deaths.
Heggins said as she began alerting family that Parker would have surgery, she became emotional.
"I started to become a little restless and nervous and a little panicky," she said. "I'd be lying if I said I was calm the whole time."
Dr. Timothy Haffey, an ear, nose and throat doctor, removed the wire. He is active-duty military and started practice at Keesler Air Force Base in July. He was on call for another doctor at Memorial.
"When I heard the story over the phone, I thought, 'I don't really believe it,'" Haffey said.
He ordered a second scan, with dye injected, to see if the metal had punctured blood vessels or anything serious.
"It was about a 9-centimeter-long, rusty piece of metal that went all the way up to his skull base, and it pretty much dodged everything," Haffey said. "Once the scan showed that, my job was pretty easy."
He said he made an incision on the upper lip and could see the metal. The surgery to remove it took about 20 minutes.
"He shouldn't have any long-term effects," Haffey said. "Basically, it was a sinus surgery. The problem is this was a rusty piece of metal."
Parker is taking antibiotics to thwart infection, and the wire was sent to a pathology lab.
"I've never actually held it in my hand," he said. "I would like to get it back at some point so I can see it."
Parker came home from the hospital Monday night and spent Tuesday recovering. His face is swollen, slightly bruised and sore. On Wednesday, he went back to work at his job as a chef.
An account, The Parker Fund, has been set up on beeabacker.com to help pay for medical expenses.
This Sunday, his plans include relaxing and spending time with Heggins and their 7-month-old daughter, Sophia. "I'm going to take it easy," he said, "and try to find somebody to mow my lawn."
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