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Man’s Severed Arm Kept Alive with His Leg Artery

Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- A Texas man is happy he can hold is grandchildren again after an experimental surgery to reconnect his severed arm, reports WFAA in Dallas.

In late August, Royce Reid, 49, was injured in an accident at work, which severed his left arm. It took hours to transfer him and his arm from a hospital in Longview, Texas, to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, and on the trip, the Navy veteran nearly bled to death.

Dr. Bardia Amirlak, the University of Texas Southwestern plastic surgeon who was on call at the Parkland trauma center when Reid arrived, said that the long trip lowered the chances that Reid’s arm would be successfully reattached.

“When the muscles start to die, you cannot put the arm back on,” he told WFAA.

Although it had been seven hours since Reid’s arm was severed, Amirlak decided to try to give Reid his arm back. In an experimental procedure, Amirlak used blood from Reid’s own leg to restore oxygen to the amputated arm.

“We hooked a tube up to the artery in leg, and took it outside his body and transfused it directly into his arm to keep it alive,” Amirlak explained to WFAA. “We did that while we are working on his bones and the blood vessels to keep the muscle alive.”

Two months later, Reid is undergoing rehabilitation and is gradually regaining the use of his hand.

To reattach severed limbs, doctors perform microsurgery, a form of plastic surgery in which they reconnect bone, muscles, nerves and blood vessels. The delicate operation takes hours, and patients must go through months of rehabilitation to regain feeling and use of their limbs.

Dr. Ben Chang, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, said that’s because the nerves in the limb can’t simply be reconnected -- they must regrow.

“The nerves have to grow all the way out,” Chang said. “Nerves grow at about an inch per month. So if you cut off your arm at the forearm, it may take 10 months before the nerves grow all the way back down to the hand.”

According to a report in Wired magazine, the first successful human limb reattachment was in 1962, when Boston surgeons put a 12-year-old boy’s arm back on after it was severed when he was trying to hop a freight train. In the 1980s, surgeons started using microscopes to help them see the tiny structures they were trying to connect in severed limbs, a major advance in the field.

Dr. Chang said the surgical techniques used to reconnect severed limbs are similar to those used in the past decade for transplants of hands, faces, and other body parts. In October, a Massachusetts man became the latest patient to get a double hand transplant. In 2010, a Spanish man became the first person to have a full face transplant.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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