Rare surgery puts toe on hand

A man with a severed thumb walked into a San Francisco hospital on Wednesday. By nightfall, his thumb had been replaced, but he’ll leave the hospital on nine toes.

Toe-to-thumb surgery is nothing new — a successful operation was reported in 1969 — but for 27-year-old Garrett La Fever, asking plastic surgeons to remove his big right toe and stitch it onto his right hand was a big and “very difficult” decision, said his mother.

“It’s going to be difficult for him for a while,” Kathy La Fever said Wednesday afternoon, after her son’s six-hour operation. “His left side will probably become pretty strong.”

The cabinet maker’s right thumb was sawed off by a tablesaw in April while he worked, his mother said. It was replaced by surgeons, but it never fully recovered, preventing the right-hander from returning to work.

The surgeons who attached La Fever’s right toe to his right hand Wednesday said the surgery at St. Mary’s Medical Center “went great.” Dr. Scott Hansen sliced off the toe, while Dr. Charles Lee prepared the hand. The cost was covered by worker’s compensation.

“We had to reconnect his bones and his tendons and his nerves,” Hansen said. “We’ll keep them immobile in a splint for upwards of four weeks.”

Lee said more than half of a hand’s function relies on the thumb, and that he expects La Fever’s new appendage to become “80 percent functional.”

“It looks like a thumb,” Lee said. “It’s a little bigger, but certainly it has a nail, and it’s got the joint and the tendons.”

Plastic surgery such as that performed on La Fever is widely misunderstood, Lee said.

“People watch [‘Nip/Tuck’] and all these ‘90210’ shows, but real plastic surgery is more than just cosmetic surgery,” he said. “Plastic surgery has evolved now to where we can basically fix any part of the human body.”

jupton@examiner.com

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