If the blades had sunk just a few inches to the left or right, Meredith Irion would not have returned Wednesday to her Lady's Island home, to two young children or to the birthday cake in the fridge.
Just four days before, on a hot Saturday afternoon, Irion had climbed onto the roof of her Cordata Court home with a friend to trim tree limbs, she said. Using a chain saw Irion borrowed, her friend cut branches to Irion's specifications, and she tossed the fallen ones onto the ground. Not five minutes into the job, the machine lodged in a tough limb and kicked back, falling onto her right shoulder, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
At first, Irion thought a branch had fallen. When she felt her shoulder, she discovered muscle was cut straight to the bone. Despite the severe injury, she climbed down a pergola, walked to a neighbor's house and asked for a towel to staunch the bleeding. As the neighbor called 911, Irion lay on her side on the porch to keep pressure on the wound, she said.
"I don't wait on anybody," she said with a quiet laugh Wednesday from her room at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, where she was flown for emergency surgery right after the accident.
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"I'm not quite sure how I got down. I just thought, 'I've got to get more help.'"
The 20-year-old Lady's Island man operating the chain saw also called 911 but did not know the home's address and seemed to be in a state of shock, Irion said. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office ruled the incident an accident.
On Monday, Irion spent her 34th birthday recovering before undergoing a second surgery. She returned home to her 12-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son at about 5 p.m. Wednesday.
"I've aged about two years," said Irion's mother, Ann Knight Roth of Beaufort. "But she's a very strong person. I'm very proud of her."
There will be a longer wait before Irion returns to her job at the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation office, a position her friend Christy Diller White recently trained her to take over. In just a few days, Irion said, she will run out of the 20 hours of paid leave she had accrued. She did not opt to pay for short-term disability, thinking she would never need it.
Irion's spray-tan business, Bronze by Mimi, will be temporarily closed, as well.
While she still has feeling in her right hand, Irion has limited use of her arm. Hoping to raise some money for the physical therapy she will need, Diller White took to crowd-funding site GoFundMe.com.
As of Wednesday morning, friends and family had raised $1,365 toward the $10,000 goal, and others have offered to donate meals or services.
"Things you take for granted every day, picking up your 3-year-old, giving him a hug, it's going to be hard for her," Diller White said. "She gives so much to everyone in need, and she's not the type of person to say, 'Hey, help me' -- so we're saying it for her."