July 1, 2021 10:06 PM
Posted: July 1, 2021 10:06 PM
Updated: July 2, 2021 12:50 PM
VERONA, Wis. – Wisconsin native Ben Shortreed is back to doing the things he enjoys, all while reflecting on the year that changed his life.
On June 27 2020, a casual night with friends turned into something more as the night went on.
“We were wrapping up just before nine when one of my friends said ‘Hey, I bought these fireworks today, do you mind if we light some off?'” Shortreed said. “I was like, ‘Sure, yeah, lets light some off.’ We lit off two fireworks, they were the prepackaged mortar tubes, the skyworks. He fired one, I fired one. Then he pulled out about a three-inch mortar ball. I said, ‘What do you do with this? I’ve never fired one before.’ He’s like, ‘Lets just put it in this tube here’. We loaded one of the tubes that we had just fired, walked it over, as I was placing it, lighting it, life changed.”
Home security video captured the blast on tape.
“Looking back at the security camera, there was a 16-foot fireball around me,” Shortreed said. “I knew something was wrong. It reminded me of throwing grenades back in the Marine Corps, just the concussion was unbelievable.”
Initially, Shortreed was stunned from the blast. In seconds, he realized the explosion had left him seriously injured.
“As I walked away, I patted my body, I didn’t know exactly what was wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got to my friends and could see the expression on their face that something was terribly not right.”
Shortreed’s left hand was severely damaged from the explosion. After rushing to the hospital, he eventually had his hand amputated at the wrist.
“My first thought was, man, my life changed forever,” the former Marine said. “Second one was, what’s my wife going to think about me, the third was, is this going to impede our adoption?”
Prior to the blast, Shortreed and his wife were in the process of adopting a child from Colombia. While he worried the explosion could possibly put those plans at risk, a new worry quickly took over in the days following the accident – pain.
“It was torturous. It was absolutely torturous,” Shortreed described of the pain, which he felt in the fingers and hand that was no longer there. “That was the toughest mental test I’ve ever had.”
He describes four unique pains, ranging from sensations of skin being peeled off, pins pushing down his fingers, and knuckles dragging on concrete. Gradually, the pain increased, eventually requiring a constant rotation of medications for Shortreed to make it through each day.
“I was on a heavy cocktail of opiates, nerve drugs, you name it,” he said. “I couldn’t even have this conversation right now. I couldn’t literally remember what I did five seconds ago. It was difficult to formulate a sentence. It was hard. It was hard to function, but I had the driving force to do so, because I wanted to be a father, we had a little girl in Colombia depending on us, I had a wife depending on having her husband back, and I had a business that depended on having some leadership.”
After weeks of experiencing the debilitating pain, Shortreed connected with UW Health Doctor Alaa Abd Elsayed, who recommended a unique treatment, targeting Shortreeds nerves in his neck and back.
“You’re treating pain in a limb that doesn’t exist,” Dr. Abd-Elsayed said. “When we block those nerves, think of it like I blocked the connection between the amputated limb and the brain. The more I can maintain the blockage, the more the brain will basically forget the mark about that limb.”
“(The pain disappeared) instantly,” Shortreed said. “At first I thought it was a placebo effect…I told my wife, I think he’s got this.”
“If we didn’t do this, Ben probably would have been using opioids, maybe in high doses,” Dr. Abd-Elsayed said.
Doctors crafted a 7-week plan for Shortreed to slowly abandon the Oxycodon and other drugs he had relied on for weeks. He completed it in two weeks.
“I’m thankful to be alive,” he said. “I’m very grateful to all the people who supported in this process in some way shape or form. They say it takes a village, I definitely had a village helping me through this process.”
Today, Shortreed uses a one-of-a-kind prosthetic arm made of carbon fiber and titanium. Slowly, he’s working to learn the movements that allow him to do the things he could prior to his injury.
This spring, his family grew, as their adoption was approved. In June, instead of focusing on the one-year anniversary of his injury, he’s focused on celebrating his first Father’s Day.
“You can control your positivity,” he said. “That’s what I focused on. Even though this is a bad situation, even though this is a situation I don’t wish upon anybody, it’s my situation. Embrace it, be positive, be the best person I can as I’m going through it.”
For more information regarding the treatment method used to cure Shortreed of his pain, you can visit the SPR Therapeutics website, linked here.
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