Ian McGregor lost his entire leg to a cancerous tumour, but he’s lucky to be alive thanks to a weird, never-before-attempted 18-hour surgical procedure: First doctors removed his calf and attached it to his arm to keep it alive during the tumour and leg amputation. Then they used the calf to fix the huge hole that resulted from the operation.
While attaching removed body parts to other body parts to keep them alive is not a new technique, surgeon Dr. Mani Ragbir told the BBC that this is the first time that this leg amputation procedure has been attempted:
We are not aware of anyone having done this particular procedure before. It’s not easy for a surgeon to tell a patient that they haven’t done this particular procedure before.
When they told Ian about it, he just agreed to it. “It felt like something out of Star Trek,” he said.
You can’t describe the feeling, you think you’re at death’s door and then you wake up and think wow, I’m here. It’s a wonderful feeling.
For the past 10 years, Ian has suffered with a large aggressive tumour running from his pelvis into his upper left thigh. When previous treatments proved unsuccessful, the only option left was to amputate Ian’s leg. But since the amputation would occur at Ian’s hip, his surgeons struggled to figure out how to close up the resulting hole.
They realised that the calf muscles would be the right size and shape to close up the wound from the amputation. To keep it alive during the operation, they connected the calf muscles to Ian’s forearm, temporarily patching the leg muscle’s arteries and veins into the circulatory system in Ian’s arm. With the muscle on life support, the surgeons completed the amputation, then transferred the calf muscle to Ian’s lower torso to fill in the hole. The entire procedure was done in a single 18-hour marathon surgery.