Chinese Doctors Save Man’s Hand By Attaching It To His Leg

By Joelle Renstrom | Published

Xei's handfootWell now, here’s something you don’t see every day.

Xie Wei, a Chinese man who accidentally cut off his hand while operating heavy machinery at his family’s workshop, is the beneficiary of some seriously weird science. After the accident, Xie somehow managed to keep his head — he gathered up his severed hand and went looking for medical facilities that could help him try to save it, even though he figured it was a long shot.

Xie tried hospitals located near the factory, but they told him they didn’t have the ability to save his hand. Xie searched for a doctor or medical facility willing to take him on as a patient for seven hours. Think about that for a minute. The reports I’ve read don’t really talk much about Xie’s state at that time — I’m presuming he had a tourniquet and had gotten attention for the injury, or else he wouldn’t have been able to pound the pavement for SEVEN HOURS looking for someone to help him. And let’s not forget that he was carrying around his own severed hand, at first stored in a plastic bag and then in a cooler of ice. He must have read about how to preserve a severed limb. Xie sure sounds like someone I’d like to have around in a crisis. His methodical search for help eventually held him to a hospital about two hours away where doctors were willing to try to save his hand.

Xie’s hard work paid off when he found tissue and wound repair specialist Dr. Tang Juyu. The doctor knew that Xie’s arm wasn’t ready for the hand to be reattached and that it needed to heal first. He also knew that he couldn’t keep the hand in an icebox forever. So Tang performed an operation in which he attached the hand to Xie’s calf in order to give it a strong and consistent blood supply until Xie’s arm is healed enough to sustain the reattachment.

According to Tang, about 20 similar cases have occurred in China, and while no data has been published about them, Tang says they’ve all been successful. Tang himself conducted a similar procedure back in 2004 when he attached a severed hand onto the patient’s stomach.

Can you imagine waking up from surgery and looking down to see your hand attached to your lower leg? Xie reported that indeed the experience was “weird” and “unbelievable.” He said that while he couldn’t feel anything in his hand (Tang didn’t connect any nerves), it was warm. His leg felt fine, aside from being heavier than normal. I’m guessing Xei didn’t wear shorts for the month between that surgery and the one to reattach his hand.

Xei post surgery

The reattachment surgery was more complicated than the first one, but all went according to plan and Xie has been discharged from the hospital. Xei says he can move his wrist, but not all of his fingers yet. This is to be expected, according to Tang, as it can take six months or more for the nerves to recover. But it seems that Xie’s search for a doctor who could perform what seemed to be impossible paid off.

Even after reading a story as strange as this, it’s worth noting that I was struck by the cost of the procedures, which was just under $50,000. And while that’s certainly no drop in the bucket, I couldn’t help thinking that in the U.S., it would be five times that amount, or perhaps even more. Regardless, the factory footed (sorry) the bill.