A 16-year-old boy from Wisconsin who was killed in a sawmill accident is helping to save the lives of others, including his own mother, through organ donation, the teen’s father said.
Michael Schuls was working at Florence Hardwoods on June 29 when the fatal accident happened. The high school football player was attempting to unjam a wood-stacking machine when the conveyor belt he was standing on moved and caused him to be pinned inside the machine, according to reports from the Florence County Sheriff’s Office.
Schuls died in hospital two days later on July 1, according to an online obituary.
The teen’s father, Jim Schuls, told local WBAY Thursday that his son’s organs are being donated to multiple recipients.
“Lucky enough his mom was the perfect match for his liver,” Jim Schuls told WBAY. “And seven or eight other families received life. He delivered the miracle we prayed for seven other families, including his mother. That’s what’s keeping me going.”
It’s unclear why the teen’s mother needs a liver transplant.
Before Schuls died, a GoFundMe page was set up by the teen’s family to pay for his hospital expenses. It has since raised over US$23,000, more than doubling its original goal of US$10,000.
In an update posted on July 1, Schuls’ aunt wrote: “Michael was hurt very badly. His injuries are awful. Everyone is broken. There are no words to convey the sorrow and sadness.”
A day later, she posted an update confirming that Schuls died in hospital.
“Yesterday Michael began his eternal life in Heaven. We know he is surrounded by loved ones we have already lost and is no longer suffering,” the update reads.
She added that family members chose for Schuls to be an organ donor and that this “tremendous loss will bring new life to 7 more people, including his mother.”
Surveillance footage at the sawmill watched by sheriff’s deputies showed Schuls stepping onto a conveyor belt to unjam a machine that stacks the small boards used to separate piles of lumber while they dry. Schuls did not press the machine’s safety shut-off button before stepping onto the conveyor belt, according to police reports.
Roughly 17 minutes passed between when Schuls moved onto the conveyor belt and when a co-worker discovered him stuck in the machine. Schuls had been working alone in the building while a supervisor operated a forklift outside, police said.
First responders used a defibrillator and administered CPR before transporting Schuls to a hospital. He was later brought to a pediatric hospital in Milwaukee, where he died.
Florence County Coroner Jeff Rickaby said Tuesday that an autopsy identified the cause of death as traumatic asphyxiation caused by “entanglement in a machine.”
Schuls’ father also worked at Florence Hardwoods and was on site the day of the accident, WBAY reported.
“I work at the same company where none of us would ever put our children in that position if we knew,” he said. “They’re brokenhearted as well, as I am. I grew up in this community, I worked in this company for six years. They’ve done great things for me. I’m not faulting anybody.”
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State and federal labour agencies are investigating the accident to determine whether workplace safety or child labour laws were violated.
Most work in sawmills and logging is prohibited for minors, but in Wisconsin, children 16 and older are allowed to work in planing mills like the one Schuls was stacking lumber in when the accident occurred. Police records obtained Tuesday suggest that Schuls was doing work allowed under state child labour laws.
His death comes as lawmakers in several states, including Wisconsin, are embracing legislation to loosen child labour laws. States have passed measures to let children work in more hazardous occupations, for more hours on school nights and in expanded roles. Wisconsin Republicans back a proposal to allow children as young as 14 to serve alcohol in bars and restaurants.
The town of Florence is located near the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and had a population of 641 people on the 2020 census.
“Our small community is in absolute shock,” reads Schuls’ GoFundMe page.
Schuls’ obituary notes he attended Florence High School where he played football, basketball, baseball and soccer. His funeral and celebration of life have been scheduled for July 15 in Florence.
— with files from The Associated Press
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