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Reattaching a Severed Hand

A new technique helps surgeons reattach severed hands.
65,000 Americans will lose a limb this year, and that's not counting the men and women serving in our armed forces. Now, a new FDA approved technique is helping to reattach hands and give patients control that could have been lost forever.

From sanding walls to laying tile and installing toilets, Pat Marvin's done it all.

"I fell in love with [my] house," Pat Marvin said.

But it's the back patio she'll never forget.

"I was doing my final cut on [a] miter edge." Pat said. "When I came down with the miter I saw something fly by me and I turned around and I looked and it was my hand laying on the floor."

With her hand severed, Pat was able to make it up the stairs, out the door and call for help -  hoping she'd be able to have it reattached and use it again.

"It's a whole different level to put it on, and make it work," Lawrence Lubbers, M.D., a hand and microvascular surgeon at Riverside Methodist Hospital said.

Surgeon Lawrence Lubbers has been reattaching hands for 30 years. The trick is the tendons.

"When you put the suture in, it slips out, and when you put the knot in, it makes it 50% weaker immediately," Dr. Lubbers said.

That's why he created a new suture-free fix.

"It's an all stainless steel device that's like a corkscrew that screws into the tendons and grabs the fibers like having the fibers wind the corkscrew up," Dr. Lubbers said.

It took Dr. Lubbers eight hours to reattach the 30 different tendons, muscles and bones. Pat should get 70 to 90 percent of the use of her hand back.

"The nerves regenerate in about a millimeter a day, an inch a month," Dr. Lubbers said.

It will take three to four years for the tissues to regenerate completely. After just seven months of physical therapy, Pat was reunited with her tools and her railing is finished.

"I said I wanted to be able to hold a hammer. I can hold a hammer," Pat concluded.

And she says she will use the saw again!

Dr. Lubbers says if a limb or finger is put on ice immediately and preserved correctly, doctors have up to 24 hours to reattach a finger, but just six hours for a hand or arm.
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