Surgeons Successfully Graft Hand Onto Patient's Leg And Keep It Alive For A Month

The surgery (not pictured) took 10 hours to reattach the patient's hand. Oleg Ivanov IL/Shutterstock.

In a story that echoes the happenings of 2013, another Chinese factory worker has had their hand amputated – and stitched back onto their leg to save the disembodied extremity from dying. After leaving the hand in place for a month, the arm from which it was removed had successfully healed enough to allow the doctors to reattach it.

After getting his left hand caught in a spinning blade in the factory in which he was working, the patient – only identified as Zhou – was rushed to a local hospital in China’s Hunan province where he was initially told that he’d lose the hand. He was then transferred to Xiangya Hospital in the province's capital, which had far more experience in “replantation” surgery, with the same team also performing the famous 2013 surgery.

Defined as the “reattachment of the amputated limb using the neurovascular and musculoskeletal structures,” the first successful replantation surgery occurred in Japan in 1965, involving reattachment of a human thumb after it was severed by a steel cutting machine. Since then, fingers, toes, arms, legs, ears and even penises have all been replanted back onto their respective locations.

According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, replantation should normally follow three steps. The first is that the damaged tissue should be carefully removed, followed by shortening the ends of the bones, but only in the severed limb and not in the stump. This is a safety measure in case replantation isn’t successful and the stump has to be reconstructed. Finally, the tendons, arteries, nerves and veins should be repaired, if necessary using grafts.

Because of the severe damage done to both the arm and hand, and the time it would take for them to recover, it was decided that the best option was to hook the hand up to a blood supply from another part of the body. “In normal temperatures, a severed finger should resume blood supply within 10 hours. The time is even shorter for a separated limb,” Dr. Tang Juyu, head of hand microsurgery at Xiangya Hospital, told People’s Daily. “If it falls short of blood for long, the tissues die and it would be impossible to get it back.”

Since the hand has been reattached during an epic 10-hour surgery, Zhou has shown slight movement in his fingers, though obviously he still needs much longer rehabilitation to get anything near full function back in the hand.

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