Intricate Handiwork

By Zachary Block '99 / September / October 2002
June 29th, 2007
Hand surgeons sometimes reattach a finger lost while chopping vegetables or cleaning grass from a lawnmower. Much rarer is the "replantation" of an entire hand, especially one as small as a child's, but that's exactly the task that faced Manuel DaSilva '91 M.D. on August 4. The procedure is so uncommon that DaSilva, a clinical assistant professor of orthopedics, didn't believe the nurse who told him to postpone another operation because a seven-year-old boy whose hand had been severed by a log splitter was on his way to the hospital. Minutes later the boy and his iced hand arrived by helicopter.

Over the next eleven hours DaSilva and a team of surgeons at Providence's Hasbro Children's Hospital - including Sean Griggs, a clinical instructor of orthopedics, and three Brown Medical School residents - reconnected the bone and sewed together the tendons, veins, arteries, and nerves in the boy's hand and arm. Although the boy will need extensive physical therapy, DaSilva says he should eventually regain nearly full use of the hand.

DaSilva, who later explained the operation on CNN and the Today show, says he's pleased by the attention the operation has received even though he regularly performs more complicated procedures. "By bringing this out in the news," he says, "parents may say, 'Wow. This could happen to my child. I better not let my child near this kind of machinery.'"

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September / October 2002