One little slip, one mistake can change your life forever 

When you hear that a table saw injury can be drastically life-altering, you can’t really appreciate what that means until you live it. Dennis Melton lives it. The Portland, Oregon man suffered a workplace injury that forever changed his life. 

While working in a production shop, Dennis was ripping boards on a table saw, same as any other day. Then disaster struck. 

“It was lunchtime,” he said. “All I wanted to do was get a few strips cut. The guys had already gone into the lunchroom. I was pushing (the board) with a push stick, saw everything was going good. The wood bound up, and the push stick broke. I fell forward. By the time I could get my hands straight up, it was too late.” 

His right hand fell into the unguarded blade, severing his thumb and index finger. 

“I didn’t even want to look at it. I decided if I had cut it off, it would hurt worse. So, then I did take a look. I saw bone marrow, a ring of bone, index finger was dangling down here. I picked it up and grabbed it.” 

He got to a hospital quickly, where doctors worked feverishly to save his fingers. 

“They reattached the thumb, put the index finger (back in place), pinned both of them. Two days later, the thumb died. Index finger had to be moved to the thumb.” 

You read that correctly. To best manage Dennis’ future ability to use his right hand, the doctors amputated his thumb and index finger and reattached the index finger where his thumb had been. The procedure worked, and his finger survived in its new role. 

Dennis spent seven days in the hospital, underwent four operations, and missed 23 weeks of work. Ironically, he got out of the hospital on Thanksgiving Day.  

His injury not only changed his life, but also his workplace. 

“When I got back, I found they’d replaced four saws, all four of them a SawStop. Best thing they could have done. It gives me the peace of mind (to know) that even though I do things right and something happens, the saw’s got my back.” 

But the damage to Dennis was done. 

“I like to work on cars. I’ve got a small pickup with a V8 in it and I got my commuter car. I’ve got a fuel filter that I can’t get (off) with this hand. I can’t wrap my hand around two wrenches. Pliers are difficult to use. The ‘thumb’ is supposed to flex like a thumb, and it just doesn’t.”