The discussion was brief.
Andy Sullivan, an orthopedic surgeon, had crawled into the dark, dusty space that once was the basement of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. There, Dana Bradley was trapped, her right leg buried in the rubble.
Other efforts to extricate the 20-yearold woman had failed.
“I told her there was no option,” Sullivan said Thursday of the tense moment that occurred while blood dripped down from carnage above them. “We were going to have to amputate the leg.
“She asked if there wasn’t something else we could do. I told her debris was ready to fall and we had to get her out of there. She didn’t argue. She agreed to have her leg cut off.”
Never before had Sullivan, chairman of the orthopedic department of the University of Oklahoma Heath Sciences Center, worked in such conditions or been faced with such a choice.
After the first wave of injured were treated at his hospital, Sullivan rushed to the explosion site.
Soon after arriving, doctors sent for amputation equipment from a nearby children’s hospital, and Sullivan crawled to Bradley, who asked about relatives apparently buried in the rubble around her. The only light came from a portable generator provided by firefighters and hand-held flashlights. Rescue workers squeezed her hand and told her to try to relax.
“She was pinned on the right side, but everything else was free,” Sullivan said. “Only one person could get to her at a time. I crawled in on top of the lady, like crawling in a small tunnel. I began putting a tourniquet on her leg, and at that point, we got a call that there was another bomb in the area and we had to clear out. She said, ‘Please don’t leave me here. You can’t leave me.”’
Sullivan said he assured the woman that rescue workers would return soon, and about 40 minutes later, the doctor was back at his grisly task.
The victim had lost so much blood that Sullivan was unable to apply a full anesthetic. Instead, she was given an intramuscular painkiller about half as effective.
Amid falling debris, Sullivan sprawled across the victim and began to amputate Bradley’s leg at the knee, a procedure that he said took about 10 minutes.
“I used an amputation set, an amputation knife,” Sullivan said. “I could only get to the leg with my left hand. There was only enough room to reach down to her leg and that was it.
“She was alert and awake. She was talking to me. She was in a great deal of pain,” he said.
Once the limb had been cut free, a firefighter crawled into the crevasse and pulled the woman out, loaded her onto a backboard, and carried her out. Sullivan rode with Bradley in an ambulance to a Oklahoma City hospital. She was in stable condition, suffering from rib and lung injuries, in addition to her severed limb.
Bradley had gone to the building to get a Social Security card for her 4-month-old son. Her mother, the son, and a 3-year-old daughter remained missing late Thursday. A sister was in intensive care.