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Nail Nearly Finished Builder

Sat., Jan. 11, 1997

Seconds after nearly piercing his heart with a nail, Jerry Patz turned back to his remodeling job.

With a tool belt around his waist and a 3-inch hole in his sternum, the framing contractor worked another four minutes before falling to the ground.

Only later would his heart collapse, forcing doctors to slice him open across the middle to pump it by hand.

That was one week ago.

Today, Patz is home, talking about how he’d rather be working. A staggering 52 staples hold the 56-year-old’s chest closed. A red divot marks a bull’s-eye where the nail entered.

“I talked to my brother-in-law who said ‘you don’t even sound like you’ve had an accident,”’ Patz said Friday. “That’s how good I feel.”

Doctors said Friday a miracle of circumstance kept Patz alive.

But Patz and his family claim it was great doctoring and a lifetime of rough and tumble labor.

“I keep in shape,” Patz said. “Real work does that for you.”

Patz was remodeling a Papa Murphy’s Pizza store Jan. 3 when the accident happened. Oxygen loss has temporarily affected his memory, so he doesn’t remember how the nail gun went off in his hands.

But he remembers turning to his partner with a 16-penny shank in his torso.

“I kept saying ‘pull it out, pull it out, pull it out,”’ Patz said. “He kept saying ‘pull what out?’ He couldn’t see it.”

His partner, who declined to give his name, said he heard the gun and Patz’s sharp inhale. He searched Patz’s hands and legs, but saw nothing.

He eventually figured it out, and ripped off Patz’s jacket and shirt. He yanked the nail. The two returned to work until Patz collapsed. His partner called 911.

The nail had punctured Patz’s aorta.

“Blood was leaving the heart through the hole,” said surgeon John Pennings. “It surrounded the heart like a water balloon and collapsed it.”

Injuries like Patz’s aren’t unheard of, doctors said. Surviving them typically is.

But fate and timing helped.

The accident took place near the corner of Government Way and Ironwood Drive - a quarter-mile from the hospital. It occurred at mid-day, when therapists and on-call surgeons were already at the hospital. Patz’s heart didn’t actually stop until he arrived.

“You’ve heard of a golden hour? We’re talking golden moments,” said operating room supervisor Rachel Muthersbaugh. “That’s all he had.”

If doctors hadn’t massaged his heart, he likely would have died in six minutes, they said.

But Patz’s framing partner jokingly said he’s not so sure.

“He’s one tough old bird,” Patz’s partner said. “I’ve known him for 18 years and I’ve never seen anything knock that guy down.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

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