“I’m not whole anymore. I had a part of me that…I don’t have anymore. And I can’t get it back”

— Patrick Callahan

Patrick Callahan was working at his stone and countertop production business in 1998, cutting Corian (a synthetic material used for countertops) on a contractor-style table saw—without the blade guard in place—for a custom job. Unfortunately, the Corian rode up on the blade, then snapped back down and shattered, pulling Patrick’s left hand—his dominant hand—into the blade. Instantly, he suffered severe injuries to his thumb and two fingers. 

Patrick Callahan Accident Victim from Table Saw Accident

“I didn’t know how to react at first,” Patrick said. “I was pretty much in shock that this might be the end for me in a way. It sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t know at the time how much damage was done to my hand, and since I work with my hands, what my future would be.” Fortunately, doctors were able to save a finger and thumb, but he lost most of his index finger. The ensuing months and years of surgeries and rehabilitation, lost wages, exorbitant medical bills, and personal strain nearly broke Patrick. 

The accident happened on Feb. 13, 1998—Friday the 13th—in the shop Patrick owned in Heber City, Utah. A hurried work pace and a not-careful-enough mindset led to disaster. “We were always behind on projects,” he said, “and we were cutting and processing small Corian parts for a custom shower install. I had a guy in my shop that said he was nervous about it, and I told him to get out of the way, and I started doing it myself. And that’s when the accident happened.  

“The speed of the accident was because the material I was cutting was brittle, and as I was pushing it through the table saw it actually shattered. I fell on the blade…the blade was probably almost full height. Because of the material and the way it needed to be cut, we were what we call free-handing. The fence wasn’t actually the guide—I was just free-handing pushing it through.” 

Immediately after it happened, Patrick said his injuries didn’t seem as severe as they turned out to be. “My first reaction was, I just sat down on a bucket. I was pretty much in shock that this might be the end for me, in a way. It sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t know at the time how much damage was done to my hand. 

“The person who drove me to the hospital definitely panicked more than I did, he was running around like a crazy person. He basically grabbed me and stuck me in the back seat of a truck (with a trailer still attached). We drove to the nearest hospital, which was about 11 minutes away. I was holding my hand underneath my arm to try to hold enough pressure on it. By the time we got to the hospital, I had bled a lot down my side. And they didn’t know exactly what had happened to me because I wasn’t so coherent, still in shock. They actually, at first, thought maybe I had been stabbed or shot because of all the blood down the side of me. 

“I had a total of five surgeries on my hand. The first one was to basically just get everything closed up and cleaned. I had damaged three fingers, including my thumb. That surgery was about two hours long. And then I had a second surgery six hours later. And then another surgery about a week later. Then I had some nerve damage (surgery) that was another six months past that. I had lots of physical therapy. I had some follow-up every week for almost a year.” 

Saving one finger and the thumb was nothing short of a miracle, but the constant pain and rehabilitation, the doctor visits, additional surgeries to enhance the appearance of his injured and missing fingers took a toll on Patrick, both personally and professionally. 

Patrick Callahan with watch band and highlighting table saw hand injury

“My recovery for the short term was the harder part. It was really hard to come to grips with just even getting dressed. Everything was different, everything was tender. It took a good year before I felt like I could function again just on a day-to-day basis. The emotional impact for me was, because I work with my hands, the hardest part. I felt like I didn’t have a future working with my hands. Even the smallest tasks became big challenges.  

“Financially, short term, self-employed…at the time I had six employees, a smaller shop. The impact immediately was I couldn’t work. So, I was relying on employees to run the business for me, and it was very hard financially. I didn’t have health insurance, so it drained everything for six months. Physically working took me about a year. The accident itself caused me to be home, like really home, for the first time in my first marriage. And what happened was, no one’s expecting to be damaged or hurt and be home for a long period of time. It put a real stress on the finances, plus it put a lot of stress on my marriage. It was hard to have a positive attitude. 

“The first year we know that we lost around $700,000 in just production income. The doctor bill itself for the first three months was just over $125,000. It took about 8 years to pay it off. Then I did some more physical therapy later on, some specialized stuff, because I started having some problems controlling the end of my finger. 

“The event of losing my finger started events that led to my divorce and the loss of my business. I spent years dealing with it. I still write with my left hand, and I have limited feeling in my thumb, and now that I am older, I am getting arthritis in my hand.” 

Despite missing nearly a year of work, Patrick made a point to go back to the shop a week after the accident to use the very saw that had injured him. 

“I wanted to make sure I could use the same saw, basically get back on the horse, so to speak. My dad and one of my employees had cleaned it up quite a bit, but there were still blood stains on things and there was kind of a big stain on the floor in the area. I did use the saw that day, just enough to make sure I could actually go back to work or have a future going back to work. That was very difficult, to go back and see it.” 

Patrick’s accident not only changed him, but also his way of operating the business. He said they found workarounds to some of the cuts they had previously made on a table saw.

“My relationship with the table saw has changed a lot. Because of the accident, and the fact that we had a couple of table saws, and we’d had little nicks and little things happen to other people, we made a (change). The accident itself caused quite a bit of turmoil in the shop because I had a few guys that were already nervous about table saws, and working with plastic is a little different than working with wood at the table saw, and they just didn’t want to go back to that. The guy that actually took me to the hospital never came back to the shop. 

“I just couldn’t imagine if by my choice and what I asked someone to do, they got injured because I didn’t have the proper equipment, I just didn’t want to live with the fact I could do this to someone else.” 

“Accidents usually happen to the more seasoned than they do to the unseasoned; unseasoned are scared. Seasoned get like I did, we get too comfortable. We feel that we don’t have any fear for the piece of equipment, and that’s when accidents happen. I have only had one newbie hurt himself on a table saw, but nearly all the table saw accidents we’ve had have all been with experienced people. 

“What I would like to share most with people about my accident is the fact of how much it changes us all over. My perspective of life changed, of what was important. The thought of having one of my employees ever get injured to that level became a big fear. My recovery was hard enough, I didn’t want to put anyone else through a similar situation. So, we changed a lot. We used to use table saws a lot for little work, and we changed how we produced parts, so our use of a table saw reduced by half in the first year. My biggest thing for me was the fact that being a business owner and what it changed in my life, thinking that that could be someone else’s life, if one of my employees…got hurt. I just couldn’t imagine if by my choice and what I asked someone to do, they got injured because I didn’t have the proper equipment. We talk about the safeties that are on some of these saws for kickback and things like that, I just didn’t want to live with the fact I could do this to someone else. 

“My experience changed a lot because I just didn’t want to have to go through something similar ever again. It was more of a mental thing to try to get over. One thing that changed was I quit wearing my wedding ring after that because I didn’t want to lose a finger because of that.”  

Over the years, Patrick has figured out ways to work around his missing finger. But he definitely misses it. 

“My counting to 10 is off,” he chuckled. “I don’t have the dexterity that I used to have. I don’t have the grip strength. Buttons, even goofy things like trimming your fingernails, your index finger is so much more agile and has more strength than your second finger. So, anything that has little details is hard, like tying a fish hook, anything like that that’s small and detail-oriented I struggle with. 

“There’s tasks that are harder and I just can’t do them like I would like to so I just don’t. Little things that you don’t think about became a problem. I had a hard time wearing a glove and riding four-wheelers or things like that because you worry about it (the empty finger) getting caught in the brake lever or clutch.” 

So would Patrick equip his shop, if he owned one today, with SawStop table saws?  

“Yes, it’s like saying ‘Would you buy a car with seat belts?’ Would I put someone else in my vehicle without a seat belt? I would change that for anyone I knew. I would tell them what the outcome of poor choices can be. SawStop has the ability to…literally save lives. It may be a finger, it may be more, but the fact that there’s a very dangerous piece of equipment with a blade that sticks out of the top that can remove body parts, and there’s a company out there that can promise that you won’t get hurt? That’s a big deal. If I was to ask someone ‘How much do you value your finger? How much do you value your hands? And how much dollar value do you want to put on that?’ It’s a miniscule amount of money to change from something that can’t help you or can’t save your fingers to something that can for sure save your hand. A SawStop can take away that accident. You can eliminate that fear for you and your employees.”  

“It may be a finger, it may be more, but the fact that there’s a very dangerous piece of equipment with a blade that sticks out of the top that can remove body parts, and there’s a company out there that can promise that you won’t get hurt? That’s a big deal.” 

Patrick Callahan injured hand on light switch

The healing, mostly mental and spiritual at this point, continues for Patrick. 

“The thing that changed in my life, other than not wanting to hurt anyone else, is the fact that, I know this sounds ridiculous, but, I’m not whole anymore. I had a part of me that through hurrying and bad choices, I don’t have anymore. And I can’t get it back. It changes how people see you. On a small scale, children don’t see it as just a finger, they see you as different. And for little kids, it’s hard for them to grasp that you are different. So, for me, being different, the changes of it, the long term and family would be important.” 

These days, Patrick tries to approach his long-ago injury as a way to educate people about the danger of table saw use. 

“I’ve taken something that was an accident, and it looks wrong, but I turned it into something where I could use it to my advantage, something to talk about, something to show, something to experience.”