Ulster farmer: I was 12 the night I lost my arm in machinery accident

William Sayers lost an arm in a farming accident when he was just 12. 'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
William Sayers lost an arm in a farming accident when he was just 12. 'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

When he was 12-years-old William Sayers had his right arm ripped off by a piece of farm machinery turning at 400 revs per minute.

The Co Tyrone man recalls feeling no pain and not crying in the immediate aftermath of the horrific incident.

This week the 41-year-old father-of-three from Donnemana spoke in great detail about his life-changing experience in the hope that other farmers will not make the same mistake he did.

William said: “It happened on Easter Monday, 1990. I was putting out slurry on the family farm all day with my friend Jonathan McLaughlin. Earlier on in the day my father had told me all the risks. He cared for me, he wanted me to make sure I was safe.

“It came to a quarter to eight at night and my mother called us in for tea. When we were sitting at the table my father said, ‘that’ll do you for today’ and I said, ‘one more load will finish the field’.

“Going out past the window my mother called me back and said, ‘you need to put on a coat’ because it was getting wet and cold. I didn’t bother zipping it up.

“Jonathan was the age to drive a tractor. He had everything up and running. The tractor was linked to a slurry tanker, and the PTO (power take off) shaft was running around at approximately 350/400 rpm. It drives the vacuum pump which is in front of it. The pump creates the suction to suck the slurry into the tank. It wasn’t working to my pleasing so I thought I’d make some adjustment to it.

“With the loose clothing and with a bit of wind my coat became entangled with the shaft. It takes in 17 feet of material every second. The minute I was caught I didn’t have chance. I remember being taken in, swung onto the ground. I thought it was all over, I’d been killed.

“I lay a while longer and came to my senses. I got up onto my feet. I looked down and all I had on me was socks and underwear. My clothes had been ripped off. I looked down to my right and I could see an arm lying about 20 feet away and I knew right away it was my arm.

“I walked over to the house, fully conscious, no tears, no pain, running on adrenalin.

“My sister Jane looked out the window at me. She said, ‘Daddy, William is coming past with only one arm’.

“My father got me into the car. I still remember my mother standing with her hand over her mouth. Not even a chance to say goodbye – total and utter devastation. I was barely recognisable because I’d been smashed to the ground with such force. I felt so sorry for my father and mother because of the mess and mayhem I was creating for them.”

Of his injuries he said: “The arm was completely screwed off. When they got the shaft off and got the coat out, the skin from my back was still inside my coat.

“I remember going down to the hospital and my father looked at my wound and saw there was no blood coming out of it. He said, ‘William, you must be bleeding inwardly, you’re going to pass away’.

“I’m waiting for this moment of death to come over me. We met an ambulance on the road that got me to Altnagelvin, it had been phoned by my sister Jane.”

He said: “At the hospital I was asked what my last request was. I asked for a run in the helicopter. It wasn’t to be because the weather took a turn for the worse. I got taken by ambulance to the Ulster. Thankfully we had some of the best surgeons in the world. They saved me, but they couldn’t get the arm back on because it wasn’t a clean cut.

“What I will say is if it had been a clean cut I’d have bled to death. It had knotted the blood vessels and removed the nerves which left me with no pain and diverted the blood back into the body.

“I was fully conscious the whole time. There were no tears. The full medical team came to see me on the Wednesday and told me it was unique. They said the likes of me was never seen before and I’m not boasting about that.”

William, whose father lost a leg in a farming accident and whose uncle killed when a tractor flipped over, said: “People say, ‘it’ll never happen to me’, but it can. And very often accidents can be prevented.

“I was warned what not to do and I disobeyed. This is the consequences.

“If the loss of my arm can stop one more accident from happening I would count it as worth it.”

William, who has been selling Massey Ferguson tractors and Red Rock equipment for the past 25 years, said: “My faith has helped me through this. I’m counted as blessed because not everybody gets a second chance.”