Sumatra Quake: Man Amputates Leg To Free Himself From Rubble

By Tim O'Connor, Caritas Australia

"I was just thinking I have to save my Adik (little brother)", says Eman a construction worker with an incredible story of courage and survival in the wake of the recent Sumatran earthquake.

It was 5.16pm local time on a humid 30th of September in Padang city. Ramlan was working with his friend Eman and their team on the seventh floor of a construction site and their long day was nearing an end.

Yet everything was about to change. Within seconds the building was shaking violently and huge chunks of concrete and debris began to rain down. The workers quickly fled to get out to the street below. But as they did, Ramlan was left behind.

One can only imagine the fear that must have welled within Ramlan as after several minutes the quaking stopped and he came to the realization that he was trapped. A massive concrete girder had squashed his right foot up to his shin.

In this earthquake prone province, it is well known that the first quake is often followed by aftershocks. Lying in the billowing dust Ramlan quickly realized he must free his leg and get down before the building crumbled.

He was stuck fast though and no matter how hard he pulled, his leg was trapped. And with it, he was too.

The awareness quickly dawned. He had to cut off his leg if he was going to survive. Reaching around in the rubble, Ramlan's hand grasped a hoe. Bracing against the pain he hacked it into this leg. The pain was excruciating. Yet after several attempts he realized the hoe was too blunt and could not get through the bone.

Thinking quickly, he reached into his pocket and called his friend and co-worker Eman.

Eman explains his feelings when he took the call, "I just thought I have to save my friend and I raced back up to the where he was. I did not think of the danger just of the welfare of my friend".

Seeing Ramlan trapped, Eman quickly assessed the situation. He found a concrete trowel and handed it to his friend who attempted again to sever the lower leg. It too was not sharp enough. Eman looked around and found a wood saw.

Ramlan, incredibly still conscious through all this, took the saw in his right hand and began to saw through his own leg.

The pain was too great and his strength was wavering. He could not continue.

Eman took the saw and unperturbed, proceeded the gruesome task of successfully amputating the leg and freeing Ramlan.

Eman wrapped the wound which was bleeding profusely and taking his friend in his arm, quickly descended to the street.

Within minutes he was in the Yos Sudarso Catholic hospital where doctors quickly staunched the bleeding.

Two hours later a further amputation slightly higher up had cleansed the wound and although the leg is gone forever, Ramlan due to his own courage and the solidarity of his friend Eman, is now on the mend.

We meet Ramlan and Eman eight days after the earthquake in a makeshift clinic set up in the grounds of the crumbling Yos Sudarso Catholic hospital. Ramlan reclines on a hospital bed one of twelve lined up in two rows covered by blue tarpaulins. And beside him sits is his savior Eman.

Although Eman, 53, calls Ramlan 'Adik' which translates as little brother, it is a term of endearment rather than of familial connection. They live in the same street and have always been friends but their recent incredible experience has brought them much closer. For eight days Eman has sat here, ensuring his friend is ok.

Despite the tragedy there is no hint of it in the eyes of the young Ramlan. His smile lights up the makeshift ward. The resilience of Ramlan is undoubtedly exceptional but the strength of the people affected by the earthquake is seen across the devastated area. Ramlan, like all the people across Padang and throughout the neighbouring provinces that have been affected by this earthquake, have had their lives changed forever. Caritas and our local partners will be there for the long haul to make sure we give them all the support they require.