It’s remarkably rare when someone is put into a situation where they need to make a life or death decision, when their life is literally in their own hands. It’s noble for someone to think they’d react rationally and calmly in a situation like that, but it’s always much easier to say something than do it.

Donald Wyman was one of the unfortunate few who was face-to-face with death. Amazingly, he did not buckle or back down.

To get the full scope of Wyman’s story, you have to start at the beginning. In 1993, when Wyman was 37 years old, the humble Pennsylvanian was working nights and weekends to build a house with his bare hands for his wife and son. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he had already built the first floor from foundation stone he’d acquired from razing barns.

His sister-in-law described him as a fighter, optimist and survivor. He apparently grew up with three brothers who knew what to do in any situation. However, his attitude and ruggedness was truly put to the test on July 20, 1993, when his life would change forever.

That day he had just cleared some trees from the mouth of a strip mine and wanted to get some lumber for the house he was building. According to People, it was around 4 p.m. when he started cutting into a huge oak resting on a hillside. Here’s how Pam Lambert from the magazine described what happened next:

Suddenly the trunk snapped back at him and fell, pinning his leg underneath. Because the top of the tree had been wedged between others it was slightly bowed; the cut released the tension like an enormous spring. “As many trees as I’ve cut, I should have known better,” Wyman says. “It drove me right into the ground. I didn’t, know what had hit me.” Seconds later, he knew. The trunk had rolled over his left shin about seven inches below” the knee, cutting flesh, shattering bone and burying his lower leg under an immovable weight of oak.

As these situations go, no one was around and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get out. He dug underneath his leg, but was stopped by a rock in the ground. Unlike other people who get trapped, he couldn’t wait for help. His leg was bleeding profusely and hesitating at all might cause him to bleed to death.

All he had was a $3 knife he bought at the flea market, so he was resolute to do what he had to do to escape and see his family again: cut off his trapped leg. As you can imagine, this isn’t something you really decide to do on a whim and the idea of cutting your own leg off is enough for some people to give up or instantly faint. Still, the pain of his leg wasn’t more than the pain he faced of never seeing his family again. So, he cut through the bone and nerves.

As satisfying as it could be to cutting your leg off, he was happy that he was free, but the ordeal was not over. He got in his truck all bloodied and drove down the road. He reached John Huber Jr.’s farm to get help. Huber was probably more panicked than Wyman and couldn’t think straight. He called an ambulance, but Wyman didn’t think that was fast enough, so he devised a plan to meet them at a nearby crossroads.

Wyman made it to the hospital and was in good spirits by the next day because he was able to see his family. They weren’t able to reattach his leg because too much damage had been done, but he was just happy to be alive.

Despite all of Wyman’s resourcefulness and persistence, it’s hard to say whether he would have escaped the situation alive without that small pocket knife. It’s important to always have one of these valuable tools on you at all times because you never know when you’ll be in a life or death situation. Of course, it’s not enough to just have a knife with you. Composure and bravery are essential elements to carry with you also.