Just decades ago, reattaching a severed body part was medically impossible, but scientific progress has dramatically changed things since then. The first such replantation was performed in 1962 by Dr. Ronald Malt, Massachusetts General Hospital’s chief surgical resident. He successfully reattached the arm of a 12-year-old boy who had suffered an accident as he was hanging onto the side of a train. Amazingly, in the years following the surgery, the boy grew up to be able to play tennis and baseball, as well as drive race cars for recreation and haul meat for a packing firm.
And as science has further progressed through the years, various types of the most unbelievable replantation surgeries have been performed, benefiting thousands of patients. Here are ten of the most amazing such procedures:
10. Reattachment of Both Hands After Molding Machine Accident
In 2005, 49-year-old Arsenio Matias from the Dominican Republic was operating a vacuum form machine, used to press plastic parts into shape, when he accidentally cut off both his hands from the wrist down. When he saw blood pouring from his wrists and his two hands laying on the machinery, he thought he was going to die. But fortunately, two of Matias’s coworkers had the presence of mind to assist him by tying their belts around his arms (to minimize the loss of blood) and putting his hands in ice (to preserve them). Hours later, doctors at the Stony Brook hospital used microscopes and magnifying lenses to reattach Matias’s severed limbs. However, doctors expected the patient to regain only up to 50% of normal feeling and mobility in his hands. Nevertheless, just days later, Matias described how he felt as “Perfect, perfect. I never have pain. This is unbelievable stuff medically.”
9. Reattachment of Both Feet After Hay Mower Accident
The reattachment of Rassa Prascevichute’s two feet was an amazing medical feat not only because of the inherent difficulty of such a procedure, but also because of the difficult obstacles that the doctor had to overcome to achieve what he did. It took place in the summer of 1983, after both feet of a 3-year-old girl in Lithuania had been chopped off by a hay mower. A plane brought Rassa and her severed feet — wrapped together with frozen fish due to a lack of ice — to Russian surgeon Ramazi Datiashvili. The doctor dealt with numerous problems, including the lack of a willing anesthesiologist, the inability to gain access to a microscope, and the unavailability of assistants. But fortunately, Datiashvili was able to find a way around these difficulties, and after four hours, the operation was deemed successful. As of 2014, Rassa had reportedly regained use of both her feet and had started a family.
8. Reattachment of Both Arms After Tractor Accident
One Saturday afternoon in January of 1992, 18-year-old John Thompson was grinding animal feed on the family farm in England when he was entangled in the tractor’s shaft. Both of his arms were torn off at the shoulders, and being alone with no one to seek help from, he had to rely on his own presence of mind to survive. He opened a door with his teeth, bit on a pencil, and used it to calmly dial his cousin’s number to inform her of the accident. Then, when the ambulance arrived, Thompson even managed to point the medical personnel to the direction of garbage bags and ice to help preserve his severed limbs. By 6:30 PM on the day of the accident, plastic surgeons were working to reattach both of the patient’s arms. As of 2012, Thompson had undergone over 30 surgeries and had regained limited use of his arms.
7. Reattachment of Scalp After Pit Bull Attack
On April 26, 2004, 4-year-old Emily Stinnett of Kentucky, U.S.A. was playing on the swing set in her father’s home when his pit bull viciously attacked her and ripped off most of her scalp. Local deputies observed that the canine still hadn’t calmed down, so they shot it dead. Then later, when Emily had been brought to Kosair Children’s Hospital, the sheriff was informed that the child would not survive if the rest of her scalp was not found and reattached. After a search of the scene of the attack didn’t yield the scalp, the officers opened up the carcass of the pit bull and found what they were searching for, although in four separate pieces. Amazingly, with the help of leech therapy, doctors were successfully able to reattach the pieces of scalp to Emily’s head.
6. Reattachment of Head to Spine After Car Crash
In 2014, Tony Cowan was driving in Britain when he hit a speed bump that caused his vehicle to be wrapped around a telephone pole. When Cowan was found, he was without a heartbeat and his head was snapped off from his spine — only muscle and tissue keeping his head on. Paramedics immediately resuscitated Cowan’s heart, then rushed him to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle so that urgently needed surgery could be performed. There, Dr. Anant Kamat reattached Cowan’s skull to his spine with the use of bolts and metal plates. Fortunately, after months in intensive care, Cowan was able to regain limited facial movement and has been able to communicate through mime and an electric board. Communicating to media representatives through the board, the 29-year-old former bricklayer expressed his feelings about his ten-year partner as he professed, “I love Karen with all my heart, and I can’t wait to go back home to get back to the life I had.”
5. Reattachment of Forearm After Crocodile Attack
On April 11, 2007, Chang Po-yu, a veterinarian at the Shoushan Zoo in China, believed he had administered a tranquilizer to one of the zoo’s crocodiles, so he fearlessly reached into its cage. However, it turned out that he had mistakenly given the crocodile a dose of antibiotics, and the reptile ended up tearing off half of Chang’s left arm just below the elbow. Horrifying images of the severed arm in the crocodile’s mouth soon went viral, but what wasn’t widely circulated afterwards was that the vet’s arm was later successfully reattached by surgeons at Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital. As of the end of May, 2009, Chang had undergone six operations to restore the arm, and although blood circulation to it had been restored, additional operations were expected. Surprisingly, the veterinarian claimed that he held no grudge against the crocodile and was raring to go back to work.
4. Reattachment of Face After Threshing Machine Accident
This one is listed by Guinness as the first ever successful full-face replant or the reattachment of a detached face. The operation was performed on 9-year-old Sandeep Kaur of India in 1994 after one of her pigtails had been caught in a threshing machine as she was working on the family farm in northern India. The accident horrifyingly caused Sandeep’s whole face to be scraped off, but the girl’s mother wisely put the detached skin into a plastic bag , then traveled three hours to bring her daughter to Christian Medical College hospital. There, Dr. Abraham Thomas performed a 10-hour procedure that reconnected blood vessels and nerves on the patient’s facial skin to her head. The operation was a great success, and as of 2005, Sandeep was studying to become a nurse.
3. Severed Hand Grafted to Leg Before Reattachment
In 2015, a factory worked named “Zhou” severed his hand in a spinning blade machine he was operating at work. Led by micro-surgeon Dr. Tang Juyu, the medical team at a Changsha hospital would’ve immediately reattached the hand, but the tendons and nerves on Zhou’s affected wrist had been terribly battered by trauma and had to be given time to heal. Thus, in the meantime, the doctors attached Zhou’s severed hand to his leg, near the ankle, to provide the hand with sufficient blood flow. Then, after more than a month had passed and the tendons and nerves on the patient’s wrist had been deemed sufficiently healed, the hand was successfully reattached in a 10-hour procedure. In fact, after a few months of recovery, Zhou regained partial use of his reattached hand. Surprisingly, micro-surgeon Dr. Tang Juyu and his team had successfully performed the same procedure under a similar circumstance in 2013.
2. Severed Arm Grafted to Groin Before Reattachment
In 2004, a traffic accident ripped off the arm of 25-year-old Israel Sarrio of Valencia, Spain. A medical team at the Levante Rehabilitation Centre reattached the arm to its stump, but an infection developed. While most doctors would’ve probably given up and permanently amputated the arm, this medical team, led by Dr. Pedro Cadavas, decided to try temporarily attaching the arm to Sarrio’s groin, so that it could supply blood to the appendage while the infection on the stump was being treated. Then, after nine days, the arm was reattached onto the stump. Doctors expected Sarrio to regain fairly good use of his arm upon recovery. However, his fingers were not expected to regain full mobility.
1. Severed Penis Grafted to Arm Before Reattachment
Penis reattachment surgery is quite rare, but it’s been done a number of times. However, the penis reattachment in the case of a man in Milwaukee is truly quite extraordinary. The man, who was in his mid-30s, severed his penis in 1989 after a tractor-type mower he was repairing unexpectedly powered on and struck him. A relative immediately brought the man to Community Memorial Hospital, where the severed penis was packed in ice. Then, the patient and his severed extremity were transferred to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, where plastic surgeons decided that extensive hematoma made immediate reattachment of the penis impossible. For this reason, the medical team temporarily attached the man’s penis to his arm in a nine-hour procedure. Then, after four weeks, the penis was successfully reattached via microsurgery.