Artery severed by broken china, Livingston man recalls freak accident, hospital experience

Steven Pfeiffer
Posted at 9:56 PM, Sep 13, 2023

LIVINGSTON — In times of need, every minute or mile spent getting to the hospital could mean the difference between life and death.

One Livingston man experienced this first hand after a freak accident left him bleeding out alone at home, in the middle of the mountains.

"It wasn't like I was on a ladder, I wasn't on the roof, I wasn't clearing trails with an ax. I was just in the kitchen," said Steven Pfeiffer, an international lawyer who has called the Paradise Valley home since 2008.

Pfeiffer was preparing his house for a family visit around Memorial Day weekend when his accident happened.

"I hadn't had anything to drink yet, although it was sitting there ready, some Woodford Reserve, and I reached up to get a plate to put some cheese and crackers on," Pfeiffer said.

Bringing the plate down, Pfeiffer said the plate caught the edge of a butter dish sitting on a shelf below, sending the butter dish to smash on the counter below.

"I went down to pick up the dish on the floor thinking, 'oh gosh, I broke a piece of my grandmother's china' and I could see the blood shooting out perpendicular to my forearm."

Hitting Pfeiffer at just the right angle, the small china shard did a lot of damage—severing a large artery, eight tendons and two nerves in his wrist.

From his service in the U.S. Navy and years of working as a lifeguard on the New Jersey coast, Pfeiffer knew it was not a cut he could handle and he hopped in his car to head for Livingston Healthcare, his arm wrapped in paper towels.

"There was no chance for an ambulance to get up there and then back, if they could even find this place," Pfeiffer said.

After several miles of dirt roads and gates, Pfeiffer walked into the hospital and immediately passed out.

"They jumped on me like flies on a dead June bug. They were all over me when I woke up."

Due to the severity of his cut, Pfeiffer was transported to Billings Clinic—an example of the partnerships between rural and urban healthcare facilities.

"I mean, here's a life-threatening dying of loss blood at 6,200 feet in the middle of the mountains in Park County, and everything just worked," Pfeiffer said. "They got me to Billings Clinic and they saved my life."

"Every step of the way, the communication, the rapidity of the response, the preparation to receive me, if that's not top-drawer, platinum-quality trauma and medical care, what would it be?"

Pfeiffer underwent different surgeries to repair the damage and rehabilitation for his injury. Now on the road to recovery, he reflects on the freak accident and care that saved his life.

"I can't imagine that it could have been done better. I can't imagine it," Pfeiffer said. "I'm not a spring chicken and I travel all over the world, and I've been in hospitals. This was the best experience that I've ever had."