When a body part becomes severed from the body there is a very small window of time in which a doctor can successfully reattach it - usually no more than a couple of hours. Putting the body part on ice certainly lengthens the window, but not by much. Without a blood supply, the muscles and other structures begin to die. Unfortunately, even with immediate medical attention, it isn’t always possible to operate on a patient for various reasons. This was the case for Xiao Wei from China who lost his hand in a work related accident.
Wei’s entire right arm was crushed and had injuries that were far too extensive to immediately reattach his hand. It wouldn’t last long on ice, so to keep the hand alive while doctors tended to the other injuries, the hand was attached to his ankle. They tapped into arteries in the leg in order to get blood circulating throughout the hand. This might seem crazy, but this presents the best possible chance for Wei to be able to keep his hand and regain normal function.
A month after the initial injury, Wei’s arm had finally healed up well enough and the hand was reattached to his arm. Doctors speculate that several other surgeries will be required for him to regain full use of the hand, but they are optimistic that the entire ordeal will be labeled a great success.
Grafting body parts onto unrelated body parts in order to keep them alive has been very successful among Chinese doctors lately, though it is still a fairly rare occurrence. Earlier this year, a teenage girl who became disfigured after a severe burn as a child was able to grow a new face on her breast, and a man grew a nose on his forehead following a traffic accident.