Nfld. & Labrador

This Botwood woman lost her hand to a power saw. Now she's fighting to honour the man who saved her life

Judy Newhook is pushing for her neighbour to be recognized for heroism after he disregarded a bloody, traumatic scene in order to save her life.

Judy Newhook wants her neighbour recognized for bravery after quick action stopped her from bleeding out

Judy Newhook lost her hand in an accident last year. She applied to have the man who saved her recognized for bravery, but was told his actions didn't meet the criteria. (Submitted by Judy Newhook)

It's a motion Judy Newhook had made a thousand times before: reach for a piece of wood, place it under the rotor blade, press down with the other hand.

One day last May, she realized — too late — that it wasn't wood under the razor edge of her chop saw.

"There was something going across my saw. The first thing that came into my mind was, 'Wow, I've ruined that piece of board,'" she said from her home in Botwood. "And when I looked down at the floor of my deck, there was my hand."

Newhook, 70, said the accident happened in a split second. To this day, she can't explain how her wrist ended up where the plank should have been.

But she remembers vividly what followed, and nearly a year later, as first reported by VOCM, she's still fighting to have the man who saved her officially recognized for his bravery.

In the moments following the accident, Newhook said her wound began pumping out dangerous amounts of blood. "I stood up against the siding of my house and just asked for divine intervention," she recalled.

In a serendipitous turn of events, Newhook's neighbour, Gary Regular, appeared just beyond her backyard fence. She called out to him, gripping her left wrist with her right hand, attempting to put pressure on her wound.

Newhook was cutting wood for a home renovation on this deck when the saw severed her hand. She said she couldn't have walked very far without losing a critical amount of blood. (Submitted by Judy Newhook)

"The bleeding was quite severe," she said, but Regular, Newhook's neighbour of 30 years, didn't turn away from the traumatizing scene. Instead he leapt to action, ripping a towel from Newhook's kitchen into strips and creating a makeshift tourniquet with a butter knife.

As her feet went cold from blood loss, she said, he was able to cut off supply to her arm and call for an ambulance.

With no way to run to a neighbouring home without losing more blood, or even release the grip on her wrist to pick up her phone, Newhook says she's sure the injury would have been fatal without Regular's quick thinking.

It's for that reason she's butting heads with award judges who say Regular's actions don't meet their criteria for heroism.

Newhook spotted her neighbour across this fence moments after the accident. He ran to help and saved her life. (Submitted by Judy Newhook)

The Newfoundland and Labrador Award for Bravery requires its applicants to have risked their life or safety to save someone else. Newhook says in her rejection letter, the government office said Regular hadn't put himself in harm's way by helping her.

But Newhook argues the sheer gore of the accident site and her wound should be enough for him to qualify.

"He came through a gate in the fence and what he saw, in all that blood, was a severed hand," she said. "He never went into a wall of fire … but he came and he saved my life. And you know, a life is a life. And when it's saved it should be recognized."

Despite not qualifying for the provincial award, Newhook said St. John Ambulance is planning to commend him for the act.

Life altered

The day of the accident, Regular and his wife retrieved her hand and put it on ice, sending it with her in an air ambulance to St. John's.

Newhook's hand was surgically reattached. Although she could move her fingers at first, the tips slowly turned black. She lost it shortly after.

As she recovered, Regular and his brother took it upon themselves to clean up the accident site, boxing away the chop saw.

"When we went to the ambulance, the two of us there he put his arms around me and I held them. It was a tremendous amount of thankfulness that passed between us," she said — a bond between friends. "Gary does not look in any way, shape or form for any recognition."

Newhook isn't sure what happened in the second it took to lose her hand; she's used the tool all her life. "I use all safety precautions. A saw, to me, is second nature."

Despite the trauma, she's refusing to succumb to her darker days. Even though she's promised Regular she won't touch the chop saw again, Newhook continues to renovate her home and play in her five-piece band, gussying up her prosthetic with a wrap of vibrant, music note-patterned cloth.

"I can do anything now, but it does take me longer," she said — anything except play guitar, her greatest loss.

But she knows she'll never come to terms with the accident until she can say she tried her best to publicly commend Regular's bravery.

Despite those efforts, he doesn't talk about that day on her deck.

Instead, every so often he saunters over to chat about the weather or the garden, giving Newhook a reassuring pat on her arm — her "broken wing," as she calls it — before heading home.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show