Casey Reyes struggled to explain the “sci-fi” surgery doctors were proposing to save her 87-year-old grandfather’s badly burned hand.
“They’re gonna put your hand inside your stomach, kind of like a hoodie,” she told him.
Frank Reyes agreed to the operation at Houston Methodist Hospital, and spent three weeks with his left hand tucked under a pocket of tissue in his belly to give it time to heal and form a new blood supply.
Last week doctors cut his hand free and shaped some of the abdominal tissue and skin to cover it.
Reyes hopes for near-full use of the hand he almost lost after a freak accident earlier this summer while he was changing a tyre.
“It’s a funny feeling,” he said while his hand was still attached to his belly. “Anything to get me well.”
Surgeries to temporarily attach one body part to another, or to tuck it under skin are by no means new, but they are uncommon.
They are used on the battlefield, in trauma situations, and increasingly in research as a way to incubate lab-grown body parts from scaffold-like materials.
Dr Anthony Echo, plastic surgeon at Houston Methodist, thought of it when he saw Reyes.
Reyes was home alone one day in late June, changing a tyre on a trailer, when the jack slipped, pinning his hand against a fender.
It was more than 100 degrees that afternoon, and it took half an hour for help to arrive.
The hot metal was like an iron and “just cooked his hand,” burning through a thick glove andskin, tendons and tissue, Echo said.
Echo realised a skin graft or flap of tissue from another part of Reyes’ body would not work.
The damage was down to the bone, and without a good blood supply, a graft or flap would die.
Echo decided to try tucking the hand inside Reyes’ belly.
“The abdominal skin actually sticks to the hand” and new blood vessels form to connect them, he said.
Without this, “likely he would have lost all of his fingers”, Echo said.
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