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CAMDEN – Thanksgiving Day was a very special one this year for Sampson Parker.
Parker, 44, was involved in a horrific accident on his 50-acre farm just north of Camden on Sept. 11. He lost most of his right arm, but he's very thankful to the two Kershaw residents who came to his aid that day.
During Thanksgiving dinner, Parker's family had a special prayer. "My wife thanked God that I am still alive," he said.
Parker, a Harrisburg, N.C., native, was working alone on his farm when a corn stalk got stuck in the rollers of a corn picker. He tried to remove it and his hand got stuck in the machine.
That was a foolish move, he said.
"It was dumb. There was no way I should have done that," he said. "I was just doing and not thinking."
His hand was stuck for nearly 90 minutes when Parker was able to stop the rollers by jamming the machine's gears with an eight-inch pin.
But then the corn picker caught fire, and the wind fanned the flames.
The fire reached Parker, and the heat started to melt his skin.
"I just kept praying for God to give me the strength to free myself," he said.
But it was soon clear to him that his only option would be a painful one.
"My arm was on fire," he said. "It was like it was stuck in a blazing furnace."
Parker knew he had to cut his arm off to escape.
He took out his John Deere pocket knife and started cutting flesh from his right arm, just below the elbow. He said that wasn't so painful, but when he got to the nerves, there was "tremendous pain."
The modest knife he had couldn't cut the bone in his arm, so Parker dropped his arm as hard as he could against one of the corn picker's metal parts to break the bone. He was successful.
Moments later, the force from a flame burst knocked Parker back about five feet from the corn picker.
Parker didn't waste time. He was losing blood rapidly and knew he needed immediate medical attention. He got into his pickup truck, which was still running, and headed for the highway.
He drove his truck to U.S. 521 North, near Granny's Quarter Creek, and flailed for help with his remaining arm.
"I pulled out there (in the middle of the road) to force someone to stop," Parker said. "And people still kept going by."
But not Doug Spinks.
The volunteer firefighter and medical first responder for the Kershaw Fire Department thought something must be wrong when he passed by.
"At first, I thought it was just red clay all over his arm," Spinks said. "I thought he had fallen and was muddy."
He turned around his SUV to go back and check on Parker.
When Spinks approached Parker's truck, he saw him slouched in the driver's seat. As he opened the truck door, he saw Parker's gaping wound.
"He said, 'I think I could use some help' real quietly," Spinks said, remembering a large but meek man.
Spinks, who was headed home after leaving work early in Columbia that afternoon, was glad he had his first-responder's kit. He had packed the kit a few days before, thinking it would be wise to have on hand while in the process of moving to another home.
Spinks had a limited supply of sterile gauze in the kit, but there was more in an emergency pregnancy kit also on hand. He needed a lot of gauze to slow the blood flow and cleanse the stub.
Spinks said his goal was to try reduce Parker's blood flow and keep him conscious until Kershaw and Lancaster county paramedics arrived.
"He was tired, with large blood loss and he was in shock," Spinks said. "His skin was gray and he had extreme thirst."
Then Karen Baker, a nurse from Kershaw who was leaving Camden after a doctor's visit, stopped at the scene to provide assistance, too.
Spinks and Baker bandaged Parker and tried to keep him talking in an effort to keep him from going unconscious before an ambulance arrived.
Baker, who has worked in emergency rooms and intensive care units most of her career, said it was a miracle that Parker was alive by the time she arrived.
"I don't see how he made it as long as he did," she said. "And to remember everything? He shouldn't have been able to remember anything with his blood loss and his coming in and going out."
She said his massive blood loss and the third- and fourth-degree burns he suffered were enough to have killed him. The burns would have put Parker into shock, she said.
"It wasn't his time to go. God didn't want him to," Baker said. "I'm thankful that I could stop and help."
From the scene, Parker was flown to and stabilized at Columbia's Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital, where he received surgery. He was later flown to the Augusta Burn Center at Doctor's Hospital in Augusta, Ga. In all, he had six surgeries.
NBC's "Today" show host Matt Lauer recently visited Parker's farm to interview him and his family about the harrowing experience. The interview aired Monday.
Though gruesome, Parker said he did what was necessary to live.
"I just kept seeing my wife and children finding me behind this picker burned to a crisp," he said. "I couldn't bear the thought of that, so that made me try harder."
Contact Johnathan Ryan
at 416-8416 or
To view the Today Show's video, click here