WEST VALLEY CITY — Movement is slowly returning to the left hand of Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Chris Dunn six months after four fingers on the hand were severed.
The injury occurred when he was sideswiped by a vehicle while investigating an accident.
“I was in excruciating pain, obviously,” Dunn said Wednesday. “I felt that I was bleeding. I could feel the blood, and it was visually on my hood.”
The incident began just before 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 22 when a slow-moving semitrailer going east on I-80 was rear-ended by a van near the Lambs Canyon exit. Dunn went to retrieve a measuring device from his car and was leaning in on the driver's side, bracing himself with the door when he was hit by a utility truck.
At first, Dunn thought he had broken his arm, because nothing else hurt. Never looking down, Dunn didn't know his hand was gone, but a fellow trooper told him that his fingers were missing.
Ron Williams and members of the Utah Department of Transportation Incident Management Team were securing the scene when they learned of the missing appendage.
“Several of us put on a small search for his hand,” Williams said. “We didn’t know if the fingers were all together or if they were separate.” Once located, they took quick action.
"I took my lunch cooler out of my truck, started packing ice on it," Williams said. When the AirMed helicopter arrived, he handed it to paramedics.
Bleeding, Dunn laid back into his patrol car and looked at photos of his family pinned to his roof and thought of his wedding ring.
"Obviously I love my wife, and I knew it was my left hand and it just meant a lot to me,” he said.
Williams recalled that the only thing Dunn kept asking was, “Where is my wedding ring?”
While most of the men in orange and yellow went back to work, one team member, Bodie Bowthorpe, couldn't.
"I just felt obligated to find it,” Bowthorpe said of the ring. “After everybody stopped looking, I kept looking, and there it was."
About 250 to 300 feet away from the accident, Bowthorpe found Dunn’s small silver ring in the debris near the tire of another cruiser. Bowthorpe gave it to a trooper, who immediately sent it to the hospital.
“After 13 hours of surgery, that’s the first thing I asked my wife, ‘Did they find my ring?’ And she had it on, and I took a big deep breath and I was able to relax,” Dunn said. “To be able to see my ring on my wife’s finger was a special moment to me and something I’ll never forget.”
Dunn's hand was reattached during his initial surgery, and he will undergo a few more surgeries. He is doing physical therapy three to four times a week for four or five hours.
“I know that I’ll be able to use my hand again,” he said.
He also hopes to one day wear his ring again. In the meantime, he's keeping it safe at home. “If I didn’t have to wear these casts, I would put it on now,” he said.
On Wednesday, Dunn thanked the members of the Incident Management Team for finding his hand and ring. They were presented with UDOT's Silver Barrel Award for going above and beyond to help Dunn.
"Without them, our job is difficult enough,” the sergeant said. “When they're behind us, we feel more at ease when we’re doing our job.”
Dunn said he has a goal to return to the road by April 1.
In the meantime, he is pleading with motorists to slow down, move over and pay attention when UHP troopers and UDOT workers respond to crashes on the roads.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc