(CBS Local) — An Illinois mechanic who lost his thumb in an accident has the use of his hand again after having doctors attach his toe as a replacement.
Melo Hairapetian accidentally severed his left thumb and pinky while using a circular saw in 2016. The damage to the man’s hand was so severe that doctors could not save the 45-year-old’s thumb. “I can’t live without my thumb,” Hairapetian said in a Loyola Medicine press release. “I used to be a mechanic. I live by my hands.”
After exploring his options, Hairapetian decided to sacrifice his own big toe and have it transplanted onto his hand. Surgeons at Loyola Medicine call the procedure “one of the most challenging operations” in hand surgery but the mechanic was found to be a great candidate for the transplant. “Mr. Hairapetian’s big toe is similar in size and bends the same way as a thumb, so this made it a great option,” Dr. Sonya Agnew said.
Agnew teamed with Dr. Sameer Puri to perform the 16-hour operation on Hairapetian’s foot and hand simultaneously. “Once the toe has been removed, we place it on the base of the thumb and fix the bone together so it’s nice and stable,” Dr. Agnew said, via WGN.
The toe-to-thumb transfer was successful and Hairapetian has been going through physical therapy to regain the skills he once had. The doctors say that most patients lose some stability while walking but the missing toe is fairly unnoticeable unless you’re a competitive athlete.
“Ultimately he will have near normal function,” Dr. Agnew added. Hairapetian says he’s already learning to fish, tie his shoes, and work a jacket zipper since the procedure.