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Pierced in the Heart

COURTESY OF SARAH THOMSEN/WBAY-TV

Last June, Doug Bergeson was working on his house in Wisconsin when the nail gun he was holding accidentally went off. The power tool drove a 9 centimeter (3.5 inch) nail into his chest. Bergeson had no idea how serious his injury was until doctors took an X-ray at a local hospital. The image revealed that the nail had punctured his heart. Bergeson says part of the nail was sticking out of his body and jumped in sync with his heartbeat.

Bergeson underwent surgery to remove the nail. It turned out that the piece of metal was lodged less than 2 millimeters (0.08 in.) from a major artery—a blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. If the nail had nicked the artery, Bergeson could have suffered uncontrollable internal bleeding and probably would have died.

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

DEEP WOUND: Actual size of a 3.5 inch nail like the one that pierced a man’s heart.

“Mr. Bergeson was extremely lucky,” says Bryan Whitson, a cardiac surgeon at Ohio State University, who was not involved in treating Bergeson. The heart doctor explains that Bergeson likely increased his chances of survival by not trying to remove the nail himself. That’s because the two main chambers of the heart, called ventricles, are under pressure. This force greatly increases the risk of bleeding from an open wound.

Bergeson has since recovered from the accident. He’s back running his farm and construction business. And he still uses nail guns—but he says he’s now a lot more careful with the potentially dangerous tools.

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