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TRUE STORY: See How Doctors Surgically Attached Man’s Hand To Stomach Just To Keep It Safe

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It is a weird story as An 87-year-old grandfather is recovering after surgeons implanted his badly burned hand temporarily into his abdomen to allow a skin graft time to heal. 

Frank Reyes almost lost his hand after a trailer he was jacking up to change a wheel slipped and crushed it against the back of his truck. 

It took more than an hour for help to arrive, by which time, the 100F temperature of the summer’s sun, super-heated the metal had almost ‘cooked’ his hand, managing to burn through a heavy glove. 

He was rushed to Houston Methodist Hospital, where medics began conventional methods to save his hand. But as the flesh continued to die, they were forced to consider amputating the damaged limb before deciding on a radical course of action. 

Mr Reyes’ granddaughter Casey Reyes said she found it difficult to explain to her grandfather, who has hearing difficulties, what type of ‘sci-fi’ surgery the doctors were planning.

She eventually said: ‘They’re gonna put your hand inside your stomach, kind of like a hoodie.’ 

‘I thought it was more or less something out of a sci-fi movie. It sounded crazy. He looked at me kind of funny, but agreed.’

The operation saw surgeons tuck Mr Reyes’ hand under a flap of skin in his abdomen for three weeks. This allowed the newly attached skin to form a new blood supply and heal. 

Now, surgeons have cut his hand free of its unusual home.

Mr Reyes said he now hopes for near-full use of the hand he almost lost after a freak accident earlier this summer while he was changing a wheel.

He said: ‘It’s a funny feeling. Anything to get me well.’ He said he no longer wanted to be cooped up once he is free from the hospital.

‘As soon as I’m well enough to drive I want to take a little trip. The main thing I want to do is raise cattle, ride horses. I’m an outdoors person.’

According to doctors at Houston Medical, the technique used on Mr Reyes was normally deployed on the battlefield or serious trauma situations.  

Dr. Anthony Echo, the plastic surgeon at Houston Methodist, thought of it when he saw Reyes, a retired cattle ranch worker and school bus driver who lives in Missouri City, Texas.

Mr Reyes was home alone one day in late June, changing a tire on a trailer, when the jack slipped, pinning his hand against the truck. 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 and through skin, tendons and tissue, Dr Echo said. 

Doctors initially tried a conservative approach, cleaning and bandaging the wound, but infection set it and most of his index finger had to be amputated. Still, the hand grew worse. 

Dr Echo, who 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. 

So, Dr Echo decided to try tucking the hand inside Reyes’ belly.

He said: ‘The abdominal skin actually sticks to the hand,’ otherwise it is ‘likely he would have lost all of his fingers.’

Dr. Vijay Gorantla, a plastic surgeon and hand transplant expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said the operation is not novel, but many doctors today don’t realise it is an option in situations like this.

He said: ‘The credit has to go to the surgeons for having chosen this. It gives you phenomenal results, especially in this type of injury, with minimal complications.

‘They’re now using this technique to prefabricate a particular body part.’  

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Ngere Ikenna is a passionate learner and freelancer writer, blogger and a lover of good reads.
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