Harvey and Amy Doliner believe they have witnessed a real-life miracle. They can find no other words that better describe the way UF Health Jacksonville gave Harvey his life back after a terrifying, life-threatening accident.
The story began on a typical November day for Harvey. The retired businessman from New Jersey and small plane pilot started the morning by enjoying Florida’s blue skies while flying his jet — with his wife of more than 40 years at his side. Flying has been Harvey’s passion since 1995 when he began piloting small planes.
After landing at Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport, Harvey noticed the aircraft tug, a small device used to pull the plane back into the hangar, was not working correctly, causing his plane to block the taxiway at the airport. Harvey says another aircraft was waiting to pass, and after walking over to speak to that pilot, he walked away toward the front of that plane – right into the propeller.
“I walked through the edge of the plane’s propeller, which was spinning at a couple thousand RPMs,” Harvey said. “Propellers on airplanes are invisible from the back. I walked through it, and it opened up my arm from the top of my shoulder all the way down.”
The damage from the propeller happened in an instant. Harvey immediately called out to his wife. Never losing consciousness, Harvey told Amy to call 911. When the emergency response teams arrived, it was clear to them that Harvey needed to be airlifted to a trauma hospital immediately. Fortunately, the UF Health TraumaOne North medevac helicopter in Nassau County was minutes away, and the helicopter arrived on the scene shortly after.
Exemplary trauma care
The flight to UF Health Jacksonville took 12 minutes, and the trauma team sprang into action with multiple specialists working together to evaluate and stabilize Harvey.
“Every step of the way was so well choreographed,” Harvey said. “Most of the professionals I encountered were with me for only a few minutes, but they did their part and moved on.”
Adam Gitlin, MD, UF assistant professor and board-certified orthopaedic surgeon at UF Health Jacksonville, was called in to address Harvey’s significant orthopaedic injuries.
Marc Kaye, MD, UF assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and a board-certified orthopaedic and hand surgeon, treated Harvey’s hand injuries.
“I hadn’t seen an injury like that in quite a while,” Gitlin said. “When Harvey came in, he had multiple fractures to his arm, soft tissue and tendon injuries, along with multiple lacerations. There was concern about the ultimate viability of his arm.”
Sliced open by the propeller, Harvey’s arm and hand were nearly severed from his body. It was one of the most catastrophic injuries surgeons at UF Health had ever dealt with. After evaluating him, Gitlin knew he had to act fast.
“Once we knew he was able to move his fingers, and had sensation and blood flow to his hand, we knew how important it was for us to get to work immediately; not only so Harvey could keep his hand, but also so he could get as much function back as possible.”
To do that, the trauma team had to operate on Harvey immediately. When Amy arrived at UF Health Jacksonville, Harvey was already in the operating room undergoing what would ultimately be close to an eight-hour surgery. Despite her obvious concern, she was hopeful that the length of the surgery meant amputation was not necessary and Harvey would keep his arm.
“On my way to meet Harvey, friends assured me that he was in the best hands with UF Health Jacksonville’s Level I Trauma Center,” Amy said. “They raved that UF Health is the best, and we experienced that firsthand.”
Harvey underwent three operations during the next eight days, and thanks to the team of expert surgeons, he was able to keep his arm and hand. Once he was released, physicians made it clear that the road ahead would require “not months but years” of intense and prolonged therapy.
Recovery through rehab
Harvey’s rehab journey started at UF Health Rehabilitation – Wildlight, in Yulee. Three times a week, he worked with an occupational therapist who specifically focused on his hand. Later, a physical therapist began working on his shoulder and upper arm. Additional therapists were consulted when needed.
The Doliners, who split their time between New Jersey and Fernandina Beach, have been so impressed with the care they received at UF Health that they willingly travel to Jacksonville to receive therapy.
In addition to working with a therapist, Harvey has been given exercises he is able to do at home. Amy said she was particularly excited to get the news that Harvey could wash dishes again.
Gitlin described Harvey’s progress as tremendous and said he always looks forward to his patient’s follow-up appointments.
“Every time I see Harvey, I’m nearly speechless with how well he’s doing and how great his function is,” Gitlin said.
Harvey still has a long road ahead in his recovery but appreciates morning walks with Amy and quality time with his family and friends, two of the many things he believes make life enjoyable. However, he still has his sights set on returning to the cockpit.
“Dr. Gitlin said right away he would get me back to flying, and I think that will happen,” Harvey said.
Each day, he continues to work toward that goal. After seeing Harvey’s positive attitude and work ethic, Gitlin remains confident that Harvey will put in the effort needed.
The Doliners have a deep appreciation for everyone who cared for Harvey. They remember a specific interaction with Gitlin. “We asked, ‘How can we possibly thank you?’” Amy said. “He looked at me and said, ‘This is what we do.’”
“They really care. It’s so unbelievable — the dedication and the care,” Harvey said.
Harvey is being honored at the 17th annual A Night for Heroes Gala on Feb. 3, which raises critical support for UF Health TraumaOne and the critical care units at UF Health Jacksonville.