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Arnaud's story

It was a long bike day in winter in St Moritz and I prescribed a four hour ride, thinking all would do it indoors. But that night when I asked all athletes about their training Arnaud replied, "it was a great day, sun was shining and the temperature was fine once I warmed up."

Strangely, I didn't even think about outside riding so when I asked about what he meant with the temperature, his answer, "it hasn't snowed for three days and the roads were clear, just like summer and no wind; blue sunshine and it never got below -1. It was a great day!"

I was a road cyclist when younger however I put it on hold to attend my military service (mandatory for men in Switzerland) in 2010 at age 22. 3 weeks before the end of my 6 months instruction with the Swiss military special forces (Grenadier in Isone, Tessin) I had an accident with a defective flashbang. This type of explosive device works like a grenade but has no fragmentation. It is more like a big petard used to stun enemies without hurting anybody to take control of the situation in a hostage-taking, or similar situation. Normally, when taking out the safety pin and holding down the lever, the countdown before explosion (1.5 sec) doesn’t start. The investigation showed that the engine was damaged during exercise or transport; it exploded in my hand while I was still holding it before throwing it. The explosion destroyed my right hand. Making a big hole in the palm, perforating the skin on the back at some point and breaking bones. Medical description of the injury:

  • Compound fractures and dislocations Carpometacarpal 2-3-4-5 (all the ones we have)

  • Basal compound fracture Metacarpal 5 (pinky finger)

  • Compound fracture Capitate bone

  • Compound fracture dislocation Trapezoid bone

  • Compound fracture dislocation Trapezium bone

  • Open dislocation Scapho-trapezo-trapezoid

  • Large palmar skin deficiency

  • Multiple nerve damage

The pain was huge and I was sure I lost my hand. A comrade did a tourniquet with his belt and I walked to the casern (it was shorter than waiting for the ambulance to reach our location). There the ambulance could take care of me, give me some pain killers and transfered me to the hospital in Bellinzona. I had my first surgery there (2 surgeons, 8hr 30). A surgeon came back from his holidays especially for my surgery saying it was a once in a lifetime occasion. The fractures were pinned, and a nerve was taken from my lower right calf to reconstruct the ones missing in my fingers. A skin/flesh transplant was performed to replace the missing palm of my hand. For this they opened a rectangle of skin on my lower abdomen, cutting only on three sides, rolling up the part of skin and then closed the opening. They then stitched my hand on to the abdomen skin. My hand was completely reconstructed after this first surgery. It was attached to my belly so the transplant could be irrigated with blood by the abdomen, providing vascularization to the hand.

I spent the next 2 months lying on my back without being able to move. I was quite relieved after this first surgery. They did an amazing job! I was then transfered to Geneva hospital, closer to home, where they have a special hand department. The troubles begin here. Most of the finger’s vascularization goes through the palm of the hand. As I had no more palm and it takes time for the transplant to attach, my fingers started to necrose. So they started cutting them down, without knowing when and where it was going to stop. I had a lot of surgery then, the most important were:

  • Cutting the pinky finger and the metacarpal bone corresponding

  • Cutting the first 2 phalanges of the ring and middle fingers

  • Cutting the third phalanges of the ring and middle fingers

  • Replacing the palm transplant with another skin transplant from the front arm to the hand (directly this time as it was just skin)

  • Liberate the hand from the abdomen

  • Opening in the skin between the forefinger and the thumb to gain mobility

So now, I still have the forefinger and the thumb (also with very less mobility especially for the forefinger). I still have phantom pain (pain in my absent fingers). It’s constant but not very strong. Harder when it’s cold or really hot. The skin is very sensitive and I have lost some feeling. But I still have the two most important fingers, and I don’t feel very restricted in life. I spent almost two months on my back in bed without moving. A couple weeks more in hospital. Three years of re-education and a lot of medication. I started running the year after the accident, in 2011, with Sierre-Zinal and the Lausanne marathon. With all the re-education and restarting work, I didn’t have much time or motivation to continue. Thus I didn’t do much exercise for the next two years. However in 2014 I had to move again and decided to start triathlon (I couldn't swim at all at the time), wanting to do an Ironman once. From one thing to another, here I am. Arnaud

Arnaud joined Trisutto coach Lisbeth and progressed through the age group ranks, thanks to her, he could now swim and developed his bike and run, so much so, he asked if he could do a season with the pro squad, to see if he could one day be a pro.

Thanks to Daniela Ryf he joined her birds team and has been literally flying ever since. Arnaud is a special person who I'm so proud of just having him in our family.

Thanks for reading.

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