Man survives 1.8m steel rod piercing through his body

2015-07-26 07:20

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Johannesburg - A pure miracle.

That is the only way Daniel de Wet can describe falling onto a large metal rod, having it pierce through his thigh, exit through his upper back - and still surviving to tell the tale.

"There are still miracles and there is a living God," De Wet told News24.

He is part of Sibanye Gold mine's rescue in Carletonville, which is about 50km from Potchefstroom.

On January 10, De Wet was working in one of the mine's shafts 3.5km underground, unblocking a drain which had been clogged by mud.

He was using an instrument called a gwala to move the mud. The needle shaped metal instrument is 1.8 metres long and about 2.5cm in diameter. It is sharp on one end and blunt on the other.

'Am I going to heaven'

"We had just come back from holiday on Thursday and I was actually not supposed to be at work that day. [At the mine] we are responsible for pumping dirty water out of the mine into the dam. The dam was blocked so we decided I would clean the dam on the Saturday."

"What happened was the mud was draining nicely, I told Mark (a colleague) that I wanted to take a picture and I placed the gwala in a straight up position," De Wet said. 

As he stepped on a muddy level to try to elevate himself high enough to take a picture of the drainage, De Wet's foot slipped.

"My foot slipped and the gwala penetrated me. It went through the front of my thigh, through my intestines, through my stomach, through my left kidney, the bottom half of my lung and made a hole where it came out just above my left shoulder blade.

"The first thought I had was 'If I die here am I going to heaven? And what about my wife and family?'"

He said his colleague Mark was so shocked that he could not speak.

"I managed to get Mark to calm down. He then called some guys who were about 50 meters away from us to help. I didn't feel any pain at that stage, the adrenaline had taken over."

After alerting his team members on the surface via a two-way radio about what had happened, Mark and the rest of the workers began trying to get De Wet to the cage which is used to transport miners down into the mine and back up to the surface.

Damage control

By the time the team reached one of the higher level shafts, the mine's paramedics were already waiting to attend to De Wet, who was lying on a stretcher still instructing his team.

"The mine's paramedics were very quick. One of the paramedics, Oupa gave me morphine and that put me out and I woke up two weeks later all deurmekaar [confused] in the trauma unit."

De Wet was airlifted from the mine to the Netcare Milpark hospital in Johannesburg where he was received by Professor Kenneth Boffard, the hospital's Trauma Director.

"We heard this was coming. It arrived, you look at it and say 'good grief!' then you plan. You check if the person is stable or unstable, get a quick X-Ray. We then got the team together and went to the operating room."

Boffard said it took the team less than an hour to do damage control. With the help of two of the biggest paramedics they could find, they managed to remove the gwala.

"With these things, if you try and be perfect you sometimes do too much. The initial [operation] took less than 60 minutes. You control the damage, you don't try and fix everything.

"Then when they're fit, usually about 36 hours later, we [take them] back to the operating room to fix and repair."

De Wet's fit physique contributed immensely to his recovery, Boffard says.

"To be able to return him as a normal man, that's a huge reward.

"He was in hospital for 19 days and on the breathing machine for five days. I didn't let him go underground for six months [after his operation]. He is now fully underground and fully recovered."

Back to work

Boffard discharged De Wet on January 29 and cleared him to return underground in May.

"We all do something risky with our lives, otherwise we would all lock ourselves in a dark room and die of boredom. I amuse myself by flying helicopters and jumping out of planes," Boffard said.

De Wet is back on duty working with the rescue team rescuing other miners, putting out fires and unblocking muddied dams.

He says being so close to death changed his outlook on life and has made him appreciate even the smallest things.

"It changes your whole life. You see life in a different way, the way you live your life, the way you talk to people, the small things that help make you a better person," he said. 

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