A Sisters High student on Thursday filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the school district, more than a year after a shop accident left him permanently disfigured.
Nineteen-year-old Joshua Ward didn't realize how much he took his fingers for granted until the worst day of his life. "I look down and I see blood and carnage, torn flesh and bone," Ward said Thursday.
Ward said he's thought back to that day in wood shop many times since his accident in December 2012.
"I don't think I could've done anything to prevent it," Ward said. "It happened so fast."
Ward was cutting a board to make some parts for a guitar -- a special assignment his teacher gave him to do alone -- as he served as a teaching assistant to the class during his junior year.
Ward said the board suddenly lifted a bit off the table -- then the board and his hand were pulled toward the spinning blade. The board shot out of the blade and punched a hole in the wall behind the table.
Two of the fingers of Ward's hand were completely severed, and Ward said his other fingers and thumb were barely hanging on by bits of skin and tendons.
Ward's father, Steven, works for Deschutes County 911, and also serves as a volunteer firefighter. He said he got the page on his beeper that a Sisters student had suffered an accident in shop class.
"I just knew -- I had this feeling," Ward's father said, as he thought it could be his son. "The doctor in the emergency room said it was the worst hand injury he's ever seen in his career," he said. Six surgeries later, Ward has little mobility and virtually no sensation in the fingers doctors reattached. "(It took) a lot of adapting and just trying to learn how to redo things -- buttoning up my shirt, tying my shoes," Ward said. He faces more surgeries -- the next one coming up in May -- and constant fear of infection and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Now he and his parents hope to hold the Sisters School District accountable, suing the school district for more than $6 million, alleging negligence by the district and staff, and faulty, outdated equipment.
"The technology (of more advanced saws) is not new, it's been there for like 10 years," Ward's father said. "And we think, as parents, they're going to have top of the line saws and stuff like that." It was an accident that threatened Joshua Ward's future livelihood. "My biggest goal coming out of surgery and hand therapy was, I want to play lacrosse," Ward said. " I want to be able to grip that lacrosse stick with that hand and be able to play, -- that was my goal."
The injury also shut the door on his dream career. "I have baby pictures of me sitting on fire trucks," Ward said. But doctors told him he would no longer be able to pursue firefighting and paramedics. "The manual labor that's required in that profession is not something I can do," he said.
But they say when one door closes, another opens -- and all of Ward's time in the hospital sparked a new interest. "I'll be pursuing nursing next year in college," Ward. "I want to help people, like the worst day I had, and be that person to help bring light to them on that day." It's a dream still years away, but other victories are already in the bag. "I'm playing varsity lacrosse now for Sisters," he said. "And seeing all the other things I've been able to do with this accident, this one extra thing, what's stopping me?"
NewsChannel 21 reached out to the Sisters School District Thursday for comment on the lawsuit, but did not hear back.
Ward said Sisters High School did replace the shop's table saw shortly after his accident. He said the school installed a high-tech saw that turns off as soon as it first detects contact with skin.