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'I wanted to die', says quake penknife amputee

by Staff Writers
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 28, 2011
Pinned under a concrete wall and in agonising pain, a Christchurch quake survivor wanted to die before penknife-wielding surgeons hacked his legs off in a remarkable rescue.

"I just wanted there to be a decent aftershock to finish it," New Zealander Brian Coker said of his ordeal trapped in the rubble of a Christchurch office block after the devastating tremor that has killed at least 148 people.

Quick-thinking surgeons, who were in Christchurch for a medical conference, saved Coker's life by amputating his legs using a pocket knife and a hacksaw so the 52-year-old financial adviser could be pulled from the wreckage.

Coker issued a statement from the Waikato Hospital, where he is recovering, praising the surgeons who put their own lives at risk to operate on him in the still shaking building, using a Leatherman knife and builder's hacksaw.

"I'd like to meet the doctors and rescuers at some time... I would like to thank them," he said.

Coker said he did not remember the amputation because he was anaesthetised, but he could recall the quake and drifting in and out of consciousness trapped in a stairwell beneath debris for six hours, not knowing if help would arrive.

"I was swept off my feet when a concrete wall fell on me," he said. "I knew straight away I was pinned and there was no way I could get myself out... the pain was excruciating. I had blood dripping from my head."

He hesitated to text his wife because "I didn't want to worry her", eventually deciding to make contact for what he thought may be the final time.

"I wanted to tell her I loved her and that I may not survive," he said.

Harried rescuers finally found him in the wreckage of the Pyne Gould building, giving him a drink of water and some morphine to ease the pain.

"They kept reassuring me they would get me out," he said. "I could hear other people screaming in the building."

After seeing Coker's horrendous injuries and realising they could not move the massive chunk of masonry bearing down on his legs, the rescuers enlisted the help of the visiting surgeons to get him out.

"I didn't know they were going to amputate my legs but I should have known," he said. "They cut my trousers and they did that while I was still conscious.

"They had no choice."

Australian doctor Stuart Philip described last week how he and his colleagues turned the ruined building into a makeshift operating theatre and used the basic tools available to perform the amputations.

"I've never been so frightened in my life, but we just kept going," he told Australian public radio, saying a female New Zealand medic did most of the surgery because she could fit in the tight space in which Coker was trapped.

Coker said he would remain in hospital for several weeks while his stumps healed before beginning a long program of rehabilitation.

But while acknowledging his life would never be the same, he said his thoughts were focused on the people of Christchurch as the traumatised city is rattled by constant aftershocks, particularly those who had lost loved ones.

"My heart goes out to them," he said. "I have colleagues who are injured and colleagues who are missing and my condolences go out to their families."

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N.Zealand remembers quake dead as toll hits 146
Christchurch, New Zealand (AFP) Feb 26, 2011
Grieving New Zealanders held church services for victims of the deadly Christchurch earthquake Sunday as the danger of falling debris frustrated efforts to recover bodies. Only one body was pulled from the rubble overnight, bringing the death toll to 146, but police warned "we continue to believe that there are more than 200 people missing in the worst damaged parts of the city". With t ... read more

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