Rest assured if R.D. Helms offers a handshake deal, he means business.
Helms operates Lake Wylie Pier Construction and a handyman service. But in April 2010, a severe mishap with a boat lift almost took both of his hands and his life. A year later, Helms is back to work.
"Stuff happens," said the Lake Wylie resident. "One mistake. That's all it takes in the pier business - one mistake."
Wednesday, April 13, marked a year since the incident. Helms was doing a favor for a waterfront property owner off River Oaks Road. He was hanging from the rafters to repair a boat lift when the metal bracket that keeps the wound-up lift wire motor from spinning broke loose. His right hand was almost completely cut off. His left was even worse, with only a small muscle remaining to "stop the catfish from getting it."
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"I thought, what am I going to do now?" Helms recalled.
Bill Davis of Lake Wylie was the second person to see Helms. Davis and his son-in-law were fishing and heard screaming, then saw a man fall onto a floating dock.
"Kind of freaky," Davis said. "I'm surprised he didn't fall in the river and drown."
Helms recalls the shock of the incident. He had to talk the first person he found into pulling the cell phone from his shirt pocket to call for help. He directed someone to the ropes in his truck for use as a tourniquet.
"I'm the one with my hands cut off," Helms said, "and I'm telling people what to do."
After hours of surgery at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, Helms awoke with both hands sewn back on and a bruised shoulder "where Jesus had a hold of me." He still doesn't know how he avoided being killed altogether, or what he'd do without the money from six jobs he had lined up already.
"Kind of makes me want to think twice about doing a favor," Helms said.
Test of time
David McClure still hadn't wrapped his head around what happened to Helms on Friday as the pier worker gave him grief for not taking better care of the docks he built shortly after Hurricane Hugo. McClure wanted to see what Helms says "modern technology and Jesus" did in putting his hands back together. McClure also wants to see work come in for the restart business.
"He did a really good job," McClure said of his waterfront structures built more than 20 years ago. "It's held up really well."
Helms may even get a little more help from Davis, a carpenter who agreed the pair would refer business to each other now that Helms is back to work. It's about the unlikeliest referral Davis would've imagined a year ago.
"I never thought he'd ever use his hands again," he said.
Helms said his hands still feel numb at times, but otherwise he's doing "pretty doggone good, considering." The bigger problem is a customer base that thinks he still can't work from having his hands cut off, he said. Helms came off the last of his medications a couple months ago. Now he's looking to pay hospital bills with pier, small dredging, siding, plumbing, painting and electrical work.
He's also looking to show the doctors who said he wouldn't be able to squeeze his hands together just how far he has come.
"I'm hard-headed," Helms said. "You tell me I can't do something, and I'm going to do it."
A year later, Davis still can't fish or pass by the dock where he found Helms without remembering the incident he'd love to forget. Yet he's glad he was there to help.
"It changed my life," Davis said. "Made me start going to church."
Apart from his hands, Helms shows almost no signs of the incident now. His body still has plenty of work left in it. Even his shoulder, which Helms admits does feel a little different now than before the incident.
"I've still got His hand on my shoulder," Helms said.