Doctors replace man's missing thumb with toe transplant - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Doctors replace man's missing thumb with toe transplant

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A Newington man lost a vital part of his hand in a terrible accident, however he was able to regain function of that limb with the help of his foot.  

Philip Colello was a hairdresser for years and owned a hairdressing school. He said he was always afraid when "handling razors and stuff."

"I've been doing it since I was a kid," Colello said. "And I always had a fear of cutting myself badly."

Last fall, at home as he was cutting a piece of wood on a table saw when he cut off his thumb.

"I was pushing the board through, I don't know if I slipped or what, but my hand went under the sheet of plywood," Colello said. "And I hit the saw blade and it went across my three fingers. It took my thumb off."

Colello said he headed to the emergency room.

"I just remember jumping out of the ambulance and running in and holding it," Colello said. "And telling them I cut my thumb off." 

After seeking out specialists at two different hospitals, Colello was ultimately sent to Saint Francis Hospital.

With his thumb packed on ice, two surgeons tried to reattach it, but there were too many complications. It was just not going to work.

A short time after that, they came to Colello with what sounded like a crazy idea.

"I thought he was kidding and he said he could do it," Colello said.

Hand surgeons Dr. Philip Buonocore and Dr. Leo Otake told Colello they could replant his toe to his thumb.

"We had to think about what our patient does with his foot, driving," Buonocore said. "For example, is he a sprinter or an athlete? What would be the impact on his daily life down the road?"

The doctors decided to take just one joint of his big toe of his left foot and replant it to his thumb.

Two weeks ago, the doctors literally sewed together blood vessels and nerves in surgery using a microscope. 

"They need to be put together with microsuture sometimes, extremely small, thinner than a human hair at times, and with all the equipment that we have, to allow us to use something that small, including the microscope and the surgical instruments," Buonocore said. "We're able to literally sew together two tubes to allow blood to pass through." 

The nerves will regenerate so he can pinch together his fingers and thumb.

"A nerve will regenerate up to a millimeter a day, whatever the distance is to be covered," Buonocore said. "It's a millimeter a day times that distance."

Colello said he's OK with the waiting because he's just so grateful. 

"Not having a thumb is hell. You don't realize it until it's gone," Colello said. "My wife says 'how are you going to go out to dinner?' 'You can't even cut your steak, for crying out loud.'" 

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