Re-attaching Severed Limbs a Routine Procedure

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Did you know that re-attaching severed limbs is a routine procedure that was pioneered in the 60’s and has been commonplace since the 80’s?  Well, we didn’t know this either until we stumbled upon an amazing story of a man in England who accidentally chopped his arm off just below the elbow with a chainsaw and had it surgically re-attached hours later.   After just a few months he could move his arm and fingers again and he was back to work.  See the image of his repaired arm to the right.

After reading this article our curiosity was ignited and with a few searches we were shocked to see how common these types of procedures are.  According to this article:

“A severed finger can survive for at least 12 hours in a warm environment and up to a couple of days if refrigerated. .”

“The first step in reattaching a body part is to restore blood flow by reconnecting the arteries. For the procedure to work, the severed tissue must be alive, and the severed arteries must be large enough to manipulate using microsurgical techniques…You also need to reattach the veins, or blood won’t be able to flow out of the severed part. Without a conduit for outflow, the body part will swell, which can cause tissue damage…Tendons, bone, and nerves must also be reattached. In general, the cleaner the cut, the more simple the operation. Ears, which have small arteries and which, when severed, are often ripped off or bitten off, tend to be tricky.

Fingers are one thing, but entire arms, feet, and legs too?  Yes indeed!  An article from the Telegraph claims that in England hundreds of fingers are re-attached every year and larger limbs such as arms are re-attached perhaps a dozen or more times a year!

The key to successful re-attachment is microsurgery, which is surgery that is performed on very small structures, such as blood vessels and nerves, with specialized instruments under a microscope.  According to this article:

“The first successful replantation (reattachment of an amputated body part) was reported in 1964 by Harry Bunke. This replantation of a rabbit’s ear was significant because blood vessels smaller than 0.04 in (0.1 cm)—similar in size to the blood vessels found in a human hand—were successfully attached. Two years later, the successful replantation of a toe to the hand of a monkey was made possible using microsurgical techniques. Soon thereafter, microsurgery began being used in a number of clinical settings.”

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