Man undergoes toe-to-thumb surgery at St. Mary's

February 29, 2012 7:26:52 PM PST
A man who lost his thumb flew halfway across the country after learning about a procedure first featured on ABC7 News. Surgeons at St. Mary's Hospital in San Francisco have been perfecting the technique over the past few years.

Mike Stevens remembers the day his life changed. He was working on a large engine at his job in Mississippi when his hand contacted the fan blade. "And, within a second, the story was over," he told ABC7.

After losing the entire thumb on his left hand, life and his work as a mechanic became exceedingly difficult. "I put a cam shaft in a Corvette. That usually takes me six hours and it took me probably 16," he recalled. That is when his wife Regina began searching the internet for surgical options. One of the first hits was a story ABC7 reported four years ago. Garret LaFever had his big toe transplanted to his hand to replace a missing thumb.

The surgeon, Dr. Charles Lee, told the Stevens family he could do the same for Mike. "Well, our goal is getting between 60 to 80 percent function back," he said. In a complex surgery at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco, Lee prepared Mike's hand while a second team led by plastic surgeon Dr. Scott Hansen removed his toe. Because of the extent of Mike's injury, doctors also removed a large section of tendon along with the toe.

The next challenge was connecting blood vessels. "It's definitely vascular. It's finding blood supply to the toe that's the challenging aspect," Hansen said. Nearly four hours into the surgery, the team had Mike's toe connected to his hand and began connecting the blood vessels. "We're doing our last blood vessel and connecting a vein," Hansen said during the surgery. "Everything is going really perfect here."

After a recovery of several weeks, doctors expect the end result to look something like Garrett's transplant. Whatever the cosmetic outcome is, Mike's wife Regina says his ultimate goal has always been to return to the work he loves. "He does anything to help keep us going, and just to see him down, it was my goal to get him back up again," she said.

Lee and his team have successfully performed several dozens of these procedures. It can also be done using the middle toe in some cases, depending on the patient's physiology.

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