Hand transplants often warrant headlines because of their sheer ambition: the extraordinary number of nerve and tendon connections, not to mention vascular and musculoskeletal linkages, required to successfully transplant a human hand can take years of planning.
So it is especially astounding that one team recently mounted a comparable effort in less than a day.
The case in question involves a boy whose hand was severed at the wrist following a violent car crash. One team of doctors rushed to treat his head injuries while, in another room, hasty preparations were made to reattach the hand. The effort was monumental:
By the time the pressure monitor was in place, near midnight, Comer’s team had Elijah’s hand ready. They brought it from the other operating room to begin the delicate process of reconnecting it to Elijah’s arm, fitting together first his bones, then the tendons, then — with the help of a few blood vessel grafts — the veins, nerves and arteries. Finally, after nine hours of surgery, the team closed the skin. They also set Elijah’s broken humerus.
Since that day, the patient has actually regained some movement in his hand and continued to recover overall – a testament to the power of modern orthopedic surgery tools. The case remains an inspiration for those of us who specialize in pediatric orthopedic surgery for young people like Elijah, and who place a premium on the absolute cutting edge in modern medical techniques.