Surgeon frees crash victim through partial amputation

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A potentially deadly crash in Pinellas County became a story of survival after a medical team had to perform surgery at the accident site, doctors at Bayfront Medical Center said Tuesday.

Florida Highway Patrol said Dustin Fowler may have been involved in a street race early Monday morning when he crashed his Ford F-150 pickup truck into a pole on Ulmerton Road.

Fowler, 27, ended up trapped in the vehicle.

"He had his left foot and lower limb stuck inside the vehicle," said Dr. Amy Koler, a trauma surgeon at Bayfront. "The EMS team had worked diligently to try to free him and extract him from the vehicle but it was impossible."

Emergency workers needed a surgeon to respond to the scene and Dr. Koler got the call. She and her medical were there within 15 minutes and realized immediately they needed to act.

"When we got to the scene, he barely had a pulse," she said. "He was in the position where he could have died at the scene had he not been freed from the vehicle."

Dr. Koler said, within five minutes, she and her team amputated part of Fowler's leg.

"We do everything we can to salvage all of the patient that we can, but we sometimes choose life over limb and that's what we had to decide at that time," she said.

Dr. Steven Epstein, Bayfront's Trauma Medical Director, said doctors train to be able to perform in-the-field amputations, but it rarely happens.

"We may get called or put on standby once a year," he said, "but to actually do the amputation in the field is pretty uncommon. This is probably, in my 30 years here, the first time we've had to amputate [part of] a leg."

Fowler remains in critical condition.

Investigators believe a second vehicle may have been racing Fowler at the time of the crash. Anyone with information about that driver is asked to call Florida Highway Patrol.