Surgeons today grafted muscle tissue onto Jonathan Metz's shoulder, two days after he amputated his arm with household tools to free himself from his basement furnace.
Metz's arm had become caught between heating cores inside the boiler on Sunday, Battalion Chief Matthew Stuart of the West Hartford Fire Department told ABC News.com.
Three days later, Metz, 31, could smell the flesh of his crushed arm beginning to rot, the telltale sign of life-threatening infection.
Floating in and out consciousness, and drinking water leaked from the furnace, Metz made a decision that doctors say saved his life: He placed a makeshift tourniquet near his left shoulder and, using the tools he had available, began to cut off his arm.
Today's surgery was the first step in fitting him for prosthesis.
"This morning we went back to reexamine the wound," Dr. Scott Ellner, the surgeon who operated on Metz at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Conn., told ABCNews.com.
"The area around the wound looked healthy and viable. He is in very stable condition and is in recovery. He is awake, talking and appreciative. He has a very strong sense of what's going on and understands his situation," he said.
The surgeon said Metz saved his own life by amputating. The dying tissue would have caused a deadly infection, he said.
"People wonder how someone could go to that extent and remove his own extremity. But he saved his life by removing the non-viable part of the extremity. The wound released toxins that were circulating through the body. Cutting away that dead tissue saved his life," he said.
Ellner did not know the tools Metz used to sever his arm, but said the cut "was very clean for someone who had no medical experience. He was able to preserve blood from leaking."
A small bit of fat and likely a nerve were all that prevented Metz from fully amputating the arm, Ellner said.
Metz, who lived alone, was rescued Wednesday after a friend, Luca DiGregorio, grew worried when Metz did not show up for work and missed a Tuesday night softball game.
Metz did not answer the doorbell when DiGregorio stopped at his home Wednesday, but he said he saw Metz's beagle "yipping at the back door." DiGregorio called police, who found Metz in the basement.
"I was a little worried, especially when the first cop showed up," DiGregorio told reporters. "Then more showed up, and then the ambulance showed up, so it got a little nerve-racking."
Firefighters used a spreader, normally used to tear apart cars with people trapped inside to remove Metz from the furnace.
"We used the spreader normally used to tear a car apart. It was pretty old boiler and this particular unit was very strong. We had to cut a support rod inside the boiler and spread apart the two halves, breaking the cast iron in order to extricate the arm from unit," Stuart said.
After he was free from the furnace, Metz was taken to the hospital, he said.
Metz's family lives in North Carolina and did return calls left by ABCNews.com. Neighbors described him to the Associated Press as a quiet and friendly man who helped them shovel their driveways after snowstorms.
Metz case recalls that of hiker Aron Ralston, who cut off his arm with a dull knife after becoming trapped under a boulder in a remote Utah canyon in 2003.