Doctors save man’s severed hand by attaching it to his calf

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A radical procedure by Chinese doctors saved a man's severed hand.

A man’s severed hand is attached to his calf to keep it alive. (Screenshot)

A factory employee in China is recovering after one of his hands was surgically grafted onto his calf after a mechanical accident. The man, Xie Wei, thought perhaps the severed hand could be saved at the time of the incident and placed it in a plastic bag while he went for medical aid. According to a report from CNN, Wei was turned away by hospitals around his place of employment due to the complex nature of the reattachment process.

After hours of fruitless searching, Wei placed the hand in a cooler on ice and expanded his search area, eventually finding a hospital 2 hours away where Dr. Tang Juyu, a specialist in difficult tissue and wound repair cases, said he would take the case. Dr. Juyu has a successful history of limb reattachment through grafting and felt Wei’s hand could be saved if it were placed surgically in an area of the body where there was enough blood flow to keep the tissue alive.

After more than seven hours of searching for help, Wei finally went under anesthesia, waking up to find his once-severed hand now attached to his calf. The hand would need to remain on the leg where blood flow was optimal until the arm itself healed and could be surgically altered for limb reattachment.

During the month of recovery time, Wei indicated the hand on his calf felt warm, but because no nerve endings had been attached he had no sensation in the added body part. While his leg felt heavy and he said it was weird seeing what had been his severed hand hanging off his calf, the surgery was successful, and the hand remained viable until his arm was ready to have it reattached.

According to Dr. Juyu, the second part of Wei’s surgical process–the reattachment of severed hand to arm–was more difficult than the original grafting, but the operation went as planned. Wei is currently recovering in his home, and while he has not yet gained full movement or sensation in the hand, he has started to gain some control over his wrist.

“I just thought it was miraculous. I would never have thought that my hand could be saved,” Xie told a Chinese news agency after the accident.

While Wei has experienced some improvement already since his incident, doctors cautioned him full recovery could take 6 months or longer. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), a cleanly severed part usually works better after replantation (reattachment) than one that has been pulled off or crushed. Recovery of use, however, depends on re-growth of two types of nerves: sensory nerves that allow sensation and motor nerves that tell muscles how to function.

“Nerves grow about an inch per month,” indicates the ASSH. “The number of inches from the injury to the tip of a finger gives the minimum number of months after which the patient may be able to feel something with that fingertip. The replanted part never regains 100% of its original use, and most doctors consider 60 percent to 80 percent of use an excellent result. Cold weather may be uncomfortable and be a cause of frequent complaints even for those with excellent recovery.”

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