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January 30, 2012

Washing machine nearly severs Texas boy's arm

By Daniel Borunda
El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas — Kierrc Napper's forearm was severed in a tragic accident in his Northeast home. The calm, collected response of his parents ensured he made it safely through the ordeal. And though he lost a limb, he hasn't lost his zeal for life.

It was a routine Wednesday — laundry day. Kierrc Napper, 8, was in his bedroom waiting for his favorite Spider-man bedsheets to come out of the wash.

His mom, Kristal Napper-Killebrew, was making dinner later than usual because she had been feeling under the weather. She and her husband, Robert Killebrew, were talking in the kitchen. The other children were in their rooms in their Northeast El Paso home.

The washing machine was running in the garage.

Napper-Killebrew heard the washing machine lid fall down. What happened next, the family will never forget.

The scene was nightmarish. Kierrc walked into the kitchen with his right forearm gone, bone exposed and his hand dangling by a tendon and a nerve.

"Momma, look," Kierrc said without yelling or crying.

"Oh, Jesus Christ" thought Napper-Killebrew, she said. "This has got to be a prank. Please, tell me that it's a prank."

Kierrc and his mom recently recounted the ordeal that occurred Jan. 4 during an interview with the El Paso Times.

Maybe it was her past experience as a nurse or maternal instinct, but Napper-Killebrew stayed calm even as her son bled, his lips turning pale. She said she had to be calm because panic could've been fatal. Her husband ran for help.

Napper-Killebrew used her shirt as a tourniquet, stopped the bleeding and put her boy's nearly-severed hand with ice cubes to help preserve it in a wrapped-up shirt.

Kierrc is the middle child of five children. He is an A-B honor roll student at Park Elementary School who likes Spider-man, helicopters and reading.

As they dealt with the crisis, the boy's parents tried to keep quiet so the other children, ages 6 to 13, wouldn't walk into the bloody scene. Eventually, the other children entered the kitchen and screamed.

"Everybody sit the heck down! Be quiet," Napper-Killebrew ordered, trying to keep her family from panicking.

She and Kierrc then went outside and sat down to wait for the ambulance. Kierrc kept asking his mom if she was OK " 'cause she looked 'wobbly.' "

"Well, listen momma, let's go to grandma's house so she can help you fix it. She'll hold it while you sew it back on," Kierrc said. His mom told him they weren't going to be calling grandma right now.

"You think I will be able to go school tomorrow if they fix it right now?" Kierrc asked. His mom told him he won't be going to school for a long time. "I don't want to miss the second grade," he shouted. They both laughed.

The gruesome injury was covered with a towel and was even difficult for some firefighters to view, Napper-Killebrew said.

Kierrc was taken to University Medical Center of El Paso and his arm was surgically re-attached. Kierrc, who is right handed, was even able to do a gripping hand motion while recovering.

Things, though, didn't go well. "We started seeing the fingers die," his mother said.

On Jan. 16, the arm had to be amputated below the elbow.

The family later learned that on the night of the accident, Kierrc had slipped into the garage for his favorite bedsheets and opened the top of the washing machine that the family bought in 2005. When the lid opened, the agitator stopped spinning but when the young boy reached inside, the machine started again. The bedsheet wrapped around his small arm and pulled with enough force to rip his forearm.

The family said El Paso police detectives took the washing machine as part of a routine investigation whenever a child is seriously injured. Sgt. Chris Mears, a spokesman for the Police Department, said the case has been ruled an accident.

The accident was similar to one in October reported by British news media where a 3-year-old boy named Lewis Lightfoot had his left arm ripped off at the shoulder after he fell into a washing machine during its spin cycle in the United Kingdom.

Kierrc is now recovering at home after more than two weeks in the hospital. He will have surgery next month to see if his body accepts skin grafts. If all goes well, he will see a doctor for a prosthetic arm. He is being home-schooled but could return to his second-grade class as soon as mid-March.

When he was in the hospital, classmates sent him gifts. On Monday during a short visit to school, other students mobbed him with well-wishes.

Napper-Killebrew said the accident has been difficult to deal with emotionally. She has always been protective of her children. They are not allowed to walk to school alone and are supervised when they play in the front yard.

"I'm mad because my job is to keep him safe at all times, 100 percent," she said. "If I'm keeping him safe, thinking I'm protecting him from outside people ... and it happened in my house. How do you think I feel? I feel even worse."

She is also upset about what she said were insensitive comments posted online anonymously on a television station's news website.

"Momma, I'm going to miss my arm," Kierrc once lamented. But his mom makes sure he doesn't feel down over the loss of a limb.

She once asked him to pick up some crayons. "Momma, I can't. I don't have an arm," he responded. She doesn't want him making such excuses and he picked up the crayons with his left hand.

The spunky kid with an easy smile appears to be adapting well.

On a recent afternoon, Kierrc's grandmother, Cynthia Shapiro, helped him put on a button-up shirt but he didn't need any help playing with a plastic Slinky toy, a video game on a mobile phone or taking a ride on a scooter.

"It wasn't anybody's fault," Kierrc's mother tells him as he sits on her lap in a living room filled with family photos.

Kierrc is a Christmas baby born on Dec. 25.

"That's the way God wanted you to be, right?" she tells him. "He even made you even more special because your birthday is on Christmas and now you have a special thing. You have one arm but you are able to still function as a kid with two arms.

"But the good thing about that was that he made you even more special because he kept you alive. You almost lost your life but you pulled through like a soldier."

Copyright 2012 El Paso Times, a MediaNews Group Newspaper

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