Surgery has saved the life of a man whose leg was temporarily attached to his arm to keep blood flowing to the flesh. This is believed to be the first time such a maneuver has been successful in a single operation.
Ian McGregor, 59, of Sunderland, UK, has had a tumour in his pelvis for ten years. Previous attempts to treat the cancer have been unsuccessful, and it had spread to his thigh. Surgeons at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital were concerned removal of the tumour would leave a hole too big to repair.
"It's not easy for a surgeon to tell a patient that they haven't done this particular procedure before." Reconstructive Surgeon Dr Mani Ragbir told the BBC, but not being aware of anyone having solved such a problem before, that was exactly what Ragbir had to do.
"I couldn't imagine what they were telling me, how they would do it and if I would wake up from the operation,” said McGregor, who described the idea as “Star Trekky”. Nevertheless, with no obvious alternatives the operation went ahead last August, saving McGregor’s life.
The surgeons removed McGregor’s lower leg other than the bones and attached the tissue to his arm so that the blood supply could keep it alive. They then cut out the tumour, and reattached the former calf to McGregor’s hip and thigh, discarding the rest of the leg.
"You can't describe the feeling, you think you're at death's door and then you wake up and think wow, I'm here. It's a wonderful feeling," said McGregor.
McGregor was in constant pain before the operation, and doubts he would be alive without it. So far he seems to be free of cancer. His survival since has led the hospital to announce the achievement to the media, in the hope the technique may be copied.
The recipient’s name was appropriate, as the Freeman hospital has a history of ground-breaking surgery. In 1987 it hosted the first successful heart transplant to a baby outside the USA, performed by surgeon Christopher McGregor.