Jeff Luptak, of Bismarck, N.D. still struggles to flex his leg, but his sense of humor is back already after successful surgery in St. Paul to remove a nail from his head.

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

Jeff Luptak’s wife, Kim, held a scan of his head Saturday as Jeff explained the saga from his hospital bed. Luptak flew from Bismarck, N.D., to the National Brain Aneurysm Center at St. Joseph’s in St. Paul for surgery to remove a nail.

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

Thanks to a very lucky angle, nail in skull did little damage

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • February 4, 2012 - 6:49 PM

A close call with a nail gun has left Jeff Luptak feeling like the luckiest unlucky guy around.

Luptak, 45, of Bismarck, N.D., was working on a house last week when he accidentally shot himself in the head with a nail gun, sending the nail 3 inches into his skull. As he lay on the floor, he thought about his wife and daughters, 7-year-old twins and a 15-year-old, bracing for the worst.

"I'm going to fall over and die," he said, tearing up Saturday during an interview in his St. Paul hospital room.

As he later learned, he could have bled to death on the floor of that Bismarck home if the nail that struck his skull hadn't pierced it at exactly that angle. Instead, when he reached up to grab the gun from a colleague, it shot at an angle that caused him to have no pain or blood loss, even as it lodged nearly all the way into his skull.

"You could barely see the head of the nail," said his wife, Kim, who rushed to the hospital to find her husband joking about losing his ball cap.

However, doctors told him if they left the nail in, it would rust and he'd die; if they took it out, he'd bleed to death. Luptak told friends and family he loved them and boarded a plane to St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul. There, at the National Brain Aneurysm Center, a team of specialists chipped away part of his skull, removed the nail and stopped a small amount of bleeding in the brain, leaving Luptak on the path to a full recovery Saturday.

"He came out smiling," his wife said.

Dr. Tariq Janjua said the nail lodged in the middle of the brain's two hemispheres, just grazing major artery vessels. Had the nail gone any direction either way, he added, Luptak's story would have ended much differently.

"It's a very rare combination of things," Janjua said. "It can't get better than this."

On Saturday, Luptak showed off the 26 staples in his head and joked about craving bacon. He still struggles to flex his left leg, which is weak because the nail hit the part of the brain that directs leg motion, but he's expected to fully recover and return home this week.

After 28 years in construction, he's driven several colleagues to hospitals after they accidentally shot nails through thumbs or wrists -- accidents they've all walked away from without serious harm. On Saturday, he was feeling lucky to have the same fate.

"Luckily I didn't [die]," he said, adding that he believes God is "not done with me."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib

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