CHANGSHA, Dec. 18 -- A man in central China whose severed hand was recently restored to his arm after first being grafted onto his calf is recovering well, according to the surgeon behind the pioneering operation.
Xie Wei, whose case has fascinated the world's media, lost his right hand in a work accident but could not have it reattached straight away.
Surgeons at Xiangya Hospital in Hunan Province instead stitched the hand to Xiao's left ankle to ensure a supply of blood and keep it alive. They then restored the hand to its original limb.
The transplanted hand has survived and the point of reattachment is healing, Tang Juyu, deputy head of the orthopedics department of the hospital, told Xinhua on Wednesday.
Xiao, 25, lost his hand after entangling his arm in a drilling machine at work about one month ago. He immediately picked up the severed appendage with the help of his colleagues and rushed to the nearest hospital, but doctors told him he would lose the hand.
"I am so young. The loss of the right hand would have meant the loss of more than half of my labor capabilities," he said.
He then rushed to Changsha, the provincial capital, in the hope that one of the better-equipped hospitals there could help. He arrived at Xiangya Hospital seven hours after the accident.
"In normal temperatures, a severed finger should resume blood supply within 10 hours. If it falls short of blood for long, transplantation is impossible," said Tang.
"The time is even shorter for a separated limb to bear a shortage of blood. Therefore, doctors should race against time to reduce the length of the separation from the body."
However, Xiao's arm was too badly damaged in the accident for the hand to be attached to it straight away. The arm needed time to heal.
After deliberations, Tang decided to rescue the hand via operations in different stages. First, doctors set the hand on the left calf. The idea was that after the severed hand survived and the patient's health recovered, it would be transplanted to the original arm.
It took doctors about half an hour to resume blood supply to the severed right hand. On Dec. 4, Tang and his surgical team spent nine hours restoring the hand to its original limb.
The operations have achieved initial success, but more functional exercises and operations are needed for Xiao to improve the regained hand's agility and functions, according to Tang.