[WARNING: This list contains graphic images] In the last several years thanks to the advancement of medical equipment and improved microsurgery techniques the success rate for limb reattachment surgeries has improved dramatically compared to when it was fist performed successfully almost 50years ago. This list includes some of the more interesting and dramatic reattachments of body parts due to accidents and assaults. (This is not to be confused with the recent success of transplanting body parts from donors.) According to what I have read if you wish to help someone in this situation the best course of action is to wrap the digit or limb in wet paper towels, then wrap it in plastic, and then pack it in ice. Remember: save the patient, save time and save the limb.
This was the first successful reattachment of a human limb. In 1962, 12 year old Everett Knowles was trying to hop a freight train in Somerville, Massachusetts and was thrown against a stone wall ripping his right arm off cleanly at the shoulder. Knowles walked away from the tracks using his left hand to hold his right arm inside a bloody sleeve and was then rushed to the emergency-room. Chief surgical, Dr. Ronald Malt immediately assembled a team of experts he would need. After hours of surgery the doctors reconnected the blood vessels, pinned the arm bone together, and grafted skin and muscle together. After the boys hand turned pink and a pulse returned to the wrist doctors reattached four major nerve trunks. After four years of recovery, Knowles had the same use of his right arm and hand as a natural lefty. He eventually drove a six-wheel truck and lifted sides of beef at his job.
Interesting Fact: After the accident Everett became a celebrity of sorts. He was interviewed repeatedly and received letters and souvenirs from major league baseball players and astronauts, even a fan club was formed.
Teenager Kaitlyn Lasitte made international news in 2007 after her accident at an amusement park. The accident occurred while she was riding the Superman Tower of Power at Six Flags Kentucky. During the ride a cable snapped and wrapped around both of her legs and severed both feet. In a recent deposition Kaitlyn said she remembers something hard hitting her in the head before the ride plunged and then felt “yanked” from her seat before being restrained by her safety belt. Then she remembers feeling like she was on fire and smelling burning flesh. Doctors were able to reattach her right foot, but unfortunately were not able to reattach her left foot and had to have some of her left leg amputated below the knee.
Interesting Fact: Kaitlyn’s medical bills total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The doctors and hospitals have agreed to wait for payment until the family’s case against the theme park is resolved.
In 2005 at a factory in North Bay Shore New York, Arsenio Matias was operating a vacuum form machine which presses plastic into parts for store displays. Suddenly something went wrong and the machine cut both of his hands off at the wrists. Matias looked down to see blood gushing from his wrists and both of his hands lying on the floor beside the machine he had just been operating. After the accident coworkers put him in a chair and told him to raise his arms over his head to slow the bleeding. Two other coworkers tied their belts around his arms and others ran to a nearby store to get ice to store his hands in. A County police helicopter then airlifted him to University Hospital. Four weeks after the complex reconstructive microsurgery he was able to leave the hospital. Matias then faced about a year of rehabilitation including exercises to regain strength in his hands and increase his range of motion.
Interesting Fact: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the company for 17 alleged serious violations, including limited training for employees and periodic servicing of manufacturing machinery and six other violations.
This often is mistaken as an urban legend but it really happened. In 1997 there was a mass tug-of-war contest along the Keelung River in Taipei in celebration of Retrocession Day. Over 1600 participants joined in the contest. The largest man in each group stood at the very front of each team. The contest began and both teams of about 800 people each started pulling as hard as they could. Unfortunately the large nylon rope was rated for less than half of the total force they were exerting on it. Suddenly the center of the nylon rope snapped and the force caused the rope to rebound and tear off the left arm of the two men at the front of each group. The victims were taken to Mackay Memorial Hospital and underwent seven hours of microsurgery to reattach their arms.
Interesting Fact: Many reports claim the men had their arms wrapped around the rope but the severing of the limbs was caused by sheer rebounding force of the broken rope ripping off the men’s arms.
In 2008 Paul Gibbs a 26-year-old student from Leeds was camping out with a group of friends when he was attacked by three men. He suffered brain damage when he was hit over the head with a motorbike helmet before his left ear was sliced off. Because his ear was not found until 17 hours after the attack the surgeons stitched it inside Gibbs stomach so some of the tissue will re-grow. The plan is to later reconstruct the ear using some of the cartilage from his ribcage and eventually reattach his ear.
Interesting Fact: Ear reconstruction has been dated as far back as 600 BC in India when doctors were reported to have used skin from other parts of the body to reconstruct ear lobes.
After losing his thumb in a 2007 woodworking accident Garrett La Fever made the decision to have surgeons remove the big toe on his right foot and reattach it onto his right hand to use as a thumb. In a six-hour surgery at Saint Mary’s Pros Center in San Francisco, the director of microsurgery, and plastic surgeon worked in tandem to remove Garret’s toe and reattach it where his thumb once was. The operation involved disconnecting then reattaching blood vessels, nerves tendons and bone. Less than two months after the surgery Garrett could easily sign his name and button his clothes. His second toe on his right foot eventfully compensated and deviated toward that side which created a more symmetric foot.
Interesting Fact: Toe-to-thumb surgery is nothing new; the first successful operation was reported in 1969. The thumb is responsible for 40 percent of the function of the hand which is why doctors recommend this type of procedure after loosing a thumb.
When I first saw the photo above I thought for sure it was photo shopped but unfortunately for Chang Po-yu it is not. In 2007 at the Shaoshan Zoo, Chang was removing tranquilizer darts before treating a Nile croc which had not been eating for a month. Chang, had failed to notice that the crock had not yet been fully anaesthetized and as he put his arm through bars of the crocodile’s cage the croc bit the Veterinarian forearm off. After Chang was rushed to the hospital a zoo employee launched a battle to retrieve his arm by shooting two bullets at the crocodile. Although the bullets failed to penetrate the crocodile’s hide, it was stunned enough to cause it to drop the arm. Chang’s arm was then rushed to the hospital where it was reattached after 5 hours of surgery.
Interesting Fact: The Nile croc is the largest African crocodile species. The croc can reach 16 feet (5 meters) in length and are estimated to kill 200 people a year.
In 2004, four year old Emily Stinnett and another girl were playing in the back yard on the swings when a pit bull broke free from its chain and bit Emily on her head and then dragged her around the yard. The dog ended up ripping off huge chunks of her scalp. After Emily was rushed to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville a deputy sheriff shot and killed the out-of-control dog. The Doctors told the sheriff that in order for the child to survive they needed to find the rest of her scalp. A search around the backyard yielded nothing. Then after it was realized that the dog consumed parts of the scalp the dog’s stomach was cut opened and the scalp was located and rushed to the hospital. Doctors were able to reattach the majority of Emily’s scalp but unfortunately some of the scalp pieces later died even after leech therapy. Emily survived and faced a series of painful skin grafts.
Interesting Fact: Leeches (mentioned above) are now used in microsurgery to stimulate circulation in reattachment operations for organs with critical blood flow, such as eye lids, fingers, ears and in Emily’s case the scalp.
I knew if I didn’t include at least one penis reattachment on this list there would be great disappointment. During my severed penis reattachment research I came across several cases but this one has to take the cake. In 2005 in Anchorage Alaska a 44 year old unidentified man was breaking up with his girlfriend Kim Tran. An argument ensued, however at some point around midnight they decided to have sex and the man allowed his girlfriend to tie his arms to the window handle above the bed. She then took a kitchen knife and severed the man’s penis. Tran then flushed the penis down the toilet, untied the man and drove him to the hospital. After finding a nurse Tran said she was leaving to move her car but drove home instead. Police rushed to the home and found her cleaning up the bloody scene. Police were able to get the details about what had happened to the penis and summoned the Anchorage utility company. Lifting the toilet from the base the workers tipped it into the tub and the penis fell out. It had been lodged in the “S” curve of the toilet for more than two hours. Officials put it on ice and drove it to the emergency room. At around 6 AM, about six hours after the knife attack, hospital officials said the surgery was successful.
Interesting Fact: Dr. Sarah Troxel who went through training for microsurgery at Stanford and also performed this surgery said. “I’d say it’s more likely that it might not work very well.” I think it seemed kind of appropriate that since a woman cut off the penis it was only fair that another woman should sew it back on.
This is truly an incredible story and is what inspired the list. In 1994 nine year old Sandeep Kaur from India had her face and scalp completely amputated from a threshing machine. The machine caught one of Sandeep’s braids causing her head to be pulled in. Sandeep’s mother, who witnessed the accident, said: “I didn’t know where her face was. Everything was peeled off.” Abraham Thomas, one of India’s top microsurgeons was on duty when Sandeep arrived at the hospital unconscious with her face in two pieces in a plastic bag. The surgeon managed to reattach Sandeep’s face back onto her skull and reconnect the arteries. The above picture shows Sandeeps face right before it was reattached and Sandeep at age 19, ten years after the accident. Sandeep is now training to become a nurse.
Interesting Fact: Sandeep Kaur’s groundbreaking surgery also inspired the recent face transplant procedures from donors.
This is another groundbreaking, first time ever surgery. In 2004, 25 year old truck driver Israel Sarrio had his lower arm torn off in a traffic accident. Doctors in Valencia Spain reattached the arm but the stump became infected. To save the arm the surgeons re-amputated the arm and attached it to the patient’s groin. This kept the limb alive by feeding it blood through its veins and arteries while doctors worked to cure the infection. The arm remained on the groin for nine days before it was reattached to the stump which had recovered from the infection.