Surgeons in Australia recently replaced a man’s missing thumb with his own big toe.
Zac Mitchell, an Australian cattle rancher, says he lost the thumb in April after he was run over by a bull. Mitchell’s coworkers tried to save the severed appendage by placing it in a cooler with cold beers — but after two surgical attempts, doctors were unable to successfully reattach it.
Mitchell says that after a surgeon concluded that a prosthetic thumb would be “pretty pointless,” he finally opted on using his toe a “last option.”
These kinds of surgeries are becoming more common, but according to a report in The Atlantic, not all hospitals are equipped with the right surgeons to handle them. Replacing a digit with a toe typically requires a minimum of four surgeons in the room and two surgical teams (one for the foot, one for the hand).
But after the new appendage becomes fully functional, the swap is advantageous for patients. Thumbs are critical in a range of everyday hand movements, from turning door knobs to holding utensils. All told, thumbs comprise about 50 percent of all hand functions.
Big toes aren’t perfect replacements for thumbs, but therapy can help patients restore many of the hand’s normal functions.
Mitchell’s operation took about eight hours. Doctors expect Mitchell’s rehabilitation to take at least one year.