Doctor transplants finger from one hand to the other

June 4, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Now surgeons in Chicago are hoping to change it again with an unusual transplant.

Face transplants, arm transplants: they're the shocking surgeries that grab headlines, but are far from practical for most people who suffer severe limb injuries.

But there are other types of transplants that are not so controversial, but still amazingly life-altering.

A woman left with two crushed hands and little hope of ever doing things on her own agrees to a rare surgery that could give her two working hands.

The catch is that she literally has to donate to herself.

On October 14, 2011, Delores Sanchez's life was changed forever.

"Delores had what is called a punch press injury. She was working with a machine that deals with significant pounds of force and unfortunately her fingers became trapped in the mechanism," said Dr. John Fernandez, hand surgeon, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush.

The damage was significant. Still, the fiercely independent 44-year-old says her first concern is not about her mangled hands, but her family back in Mexico. "One machine destroyed my life," said Sanchez.

On her left hand, the majority of her thumb and about half of her index finger were cut off. The other three fingers were okay.

But on the right hand, it was opposite. The thumb and index finger were mostly preserved, but she lost almost all of her middle finger and both ring and small finger.

She was left with two hands that basically didn't work.

Sanchez says she was told by other surgeons there was nothing they could do.

Enter Dr. John Fernandez, a hand surgeon at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush.

He had an idea.

"We're kinda robbing Peter to pay Paul, like the expression says," said Dr. Fernandez.

He proposed removing the couple of inches that was left of the index finger on the left hand because that stump was getting in the way and preventing her from grabbing things.

"Let's recycle that lets try to use that so that it can improve the function on the other hand," said Dr. Fernandez.

So that stump would be transplanted to the remaining part of her middle finger on the other hand, elongating it and making it functional.

Sanchez was petrified to have lost so much and to take a chance having part of yet another finger removed.

"Really, really, I don't know, I'm scared," said Sanchez.

But with neither hand really working, this operation would give her a chance.

Using specialized tools with microscopes, doctors removed what was left of this digit and then with precision reattached it.

"Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, so there is this leap of faith that the patients have to make," said Dr. Fernandez.

Sanchez took the leap and the transplant worked. The rebuilt finger is coming along, though it's still requiring some minor procedures. And while it looks bulky now, eventually it may thin out on its own.

She's learning slowly to make her own meals, dress herself and figure out just how this new life and these different hands will work.

"I want to be independent again," said Sanchez.

"Without this type of surgery she wouldn't be able to do it at all so it's a huge thing for her," said Dr. Fernandez.

The beauty of a surgery like this is that Sanchez will not have to be on powerful anti-rejection drugs, which carry certain risks.

Doctor Fernandez encourages anyone with a devastating injury not to give up hope and to always get another opinion- and keep looking for answers.

Hand, Wrist and Elbow Institute
Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush

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