Fireworks accident nearly took teen’s hand

Patient Stories |


Isaac DePoy

“I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” Mooresville resident Isaac DePoy said, after a faulty explosive shredded his thumb and fingers.

By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer,

Isaac DePoy doesn’t know how long he was unconscious, but when he came to, his left hand was mangled, and blood was gushing from the place where his thumb and two fingers had been.

Dazed and in shock, he wrapped his shirt around the bloody hand and stumbled about 75 yards to a neighbor’s house for help.

Isaac DePoy

“I knew I screwed up,” the 17-year-old says today, reflecting on the accident that changed his life one year ago. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it.”

Hours earlier, he had been lighting fireworks with a group of friends on property near his Mooresville home. When they left, he decided to light the few remaining explosives on his own.

But one of those old fireworks malfunctioned. After lighting it with a blowtorch, Isaac said, the wick collapsed into the explosive before he had a chance to turn and run.

“I was fortunate to not be holding it, but I didn’t have time to get away from it.”

When he came to, he said, “All I could see was bone. And blood.”

Neighbors helped staunch the blood flow with a makeshift tourniquet while they waited for an ambulance.

Isaac doesn’t remember feeling any pain until paramedics put him in the ambulance, and his parents, Spencer and Lara, arrived on the scene.

“I was thinking this was the end of my life, I told my parents I loved them and not to worry about me. I’ll be in a better place.”

Isaac DePoy

The polite, young outdoorsman who will be a senior at Mooresville High School admits he had another thought: “I figured if I was gonna go out, this is what I wanted in my obituary – that I went out in the American way.”

He did not “go out” that day last July, but he did go to Riley Hospital for Children, where a team of experts saved his life, then saved his hand.

Dr. Gregory Borschel, chief of plastic surgery at Riley, treats all kinds of injuries that require reconstruction, but trauma caused by fireworks is “tremendously upsetting,” he said, because it is preventable in most cases.

“It’s a fun part of our heritage, but with the really powerful fireworks, they have to be treated with respect, and I’m sure Isaac would be the first to tell you to be really careful with these things,” the surgeon said.

Isaac said exactly that during a return visit to Riley last week, one year out from his injury.

“Know the consequences of your action,” he said. “I didn’t think about what could go wrong; I was just having fun.”

What wasn’t fun were the multiple surgeries he underwent to stabilize his broken bones, remove dead tissue and preserve what was left of his hand, thumb and fingers through skin grafts and “pocket” or “flap” surgery. The latter involved Dr. Borschel cutting open a flap on Isaac’s left flank and basically sewing his left hand inside, where it could be protected from decay and infection while healing.

Isaac DePoy

What followed were more surgeries to reconstruct the hand to the point where Isaac could use it, even if it’s not pretty.

“The hands look very different, but he’s able to do the things he wants to do,” Dr. Borschel said.

That includes hunting, fishing, camping and even working in a construction-related job over the summer.

Isaac DePoy

He says he won’t be lighting fireworks this July 4th, but that’s because he’ll be on vacation with his family, visiting Mount Rushmore and other sites out west.

“I know I was lucky to come out of the accident with what I have, and I couldn’t be happier with how Dr. Borschel helped me. I’m getting to use all my fingers,” he said. “Even if they don’t look like fingers, they’re my fingers. I’m blessed.”

But he has some advice for people who plan to light fireworks this year: “Know what you’re doing, have fun, and don’t be stupid.”

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 9,700 people were treated in hospital emergency departments for fireworks injuries last year, and eight people died. Teens ages 15 to 19 were the group most likely to be injured by fireworks.

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,

Related Doctor

Gregory H. Borschel, MD

Gregory H. Borschel, MD

Plastic Surgery