Fast-acting co-workers, EMS providers, surgeons save butcher who severed femoral vein
Adam Ritchotte, an Army veteran, was using a boning knife to cut a beef shoulder when the knife slipped and went 4 inches into his groin
Norwich Bulletin, Conn.
SALEM, Conn. — After 16 years in the butchering business, Sean Kelley knows a bad bleed when he sees one.
So when Adam Ritchotte, his co-worker at Salem Prime Cuts, walked out of the New London Road shop on March 7, Kelley knew he was watching venous blood splatter out of his fellow butcher's groin.
"We call that kind of injury 'the widow-maker' in the trade," Kelley said.
Ritchotte and Kelly, along with several of the emergency service personnel who helped save the 28-year-old Baltic man's life, were guests of honor during a ceremony at the Gardner Lake Volunteer Fire Company's headquarters on Thursday that also served as an avenue for Hartford HealthCare doctors and EMS officials to relay the importance of basic bleeding control to the community.
On that Sunday in March, Ritchotte, a U.S. Army infantryman veteran who did a six-month tour in Afghanistan before being discharged and signing on with the Salem butchering shop three years ago, was using a 6-inch boning knife to carve up a slab of beef shoulder.
"When you get down to the bone, it's like glass," he said. "The knife slipped off the table and went about 4 inches into my groin. It felt like I got punched."
Ritchotte pulled out the knife and began applying direct pressure to a wound that had severed his right femoral vein, which carries blood out of the leg. As soon as he dropped his knife belt, "blood hit the floor."
"That vein can drain out every drop of blood," said Dr. Kyle McClaine, the EMS medical director for The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, noting such an injury, if not properly clamped, can cause a person to bleed out in less than three minutes.
Reaching back to his medical military training, Ritchotte lay down on the shop's porch and told Kelley to shove his knee into the rapidly draining wound and to keep the pressure on. A third co-worker, Sarah Hill, called 911 and the trio waited for help.
"I didn't want to die, but I told myself if I did, I could do it freaking out or calm," Ritchotte said. "I figured the best way was calm."
As EMTs raced to the scene from Gardner Lake and the Salem Volunteer Fire Companies, Ritchotte also asked Hill to call his wife — the couple have a 3-year-old and another baby due to arrive in July.
"I told Sarah not to scare her," he said.
Soon after the EMTs, joined by American Ambulance paramedics, took over Ritchotte's care as they prepared to get him to Backus. One of the paramedic, Charlie Weinsteiger, himself an Army National Guard combat medic, identified himself to Ritchotte by his military occupational specialty, or MOS, designation — 68 Whiskey — a gesture that helped calm the bleeding man.
McClaine said the location of Ritchotte's injury, high up the groin, meant a tourniquet was not an option for bleeding control. Once at the Norwich hospital, surgeons, including Dr. David Coletti, tied off the upper portion of the lacerated vein ahead of a Life Star trip to Hartford Hospital, where Dr. Edward Gifford was waiting.
The vascular surgeon said while the vein bleed was under control, the next issue was dealing with the large amount of blood that pooled in the leg.
"If that's left too long, muscles swell and can't survive," Gifford said.
The surgical team was able to make twin incisions on the side of Ritchotte's leg to relieve the pressure, and Gifford replaced the 5-inch vein gap by splitting open a smaller vein to increase its "caliber" and sewing the halves together to reconstruct the severed vein.
Ritchotte, whose five purple scars — the largest 18 inches — still stand out livid from his body, said he hopes to fully recovered by early summer.
The eight EMS personnel were honored Thursday — which fell during National EMS Week — with Hartford HealthCare Medical Director's Clinical Excellence Awards.
Gifford called the response to the injury, from Ritchotte's and Kelley's quick thinking to the EMS and surgical care, a confluence of the right people doing the right thing under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.
"This is a story of exemplary teamwork," he said.
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