Remarkable rally after amputation

By Martin Johnston

Thumb, finger reattached and patient doing well a year after accident with wood-splitter.

Ross Mulholland, who has good movement in his thumb again, has done everything his doctors have asked of him in his journey to recovery. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ross Mulholland, who has good movement in his thumb again, has done everything his doctors have asked of him in his journey to recovery. Photo / Greg Bowker

Ross Mulholland, who accidentally amputated a finger and thumb, is a "model patient" who has done everything possible to give the reattached digits the best chances of recovery.

Mr Mulholland, of Helensville, north-west of metropolitan Auckland, chopped off the index finger and thumb of his left hand in a wood-splitting machine in November 2010.

The severed digits travelled in a chilly-bin to Middlemore Hospital, where they were reattached. A team headed by plastic and reconstructive surgeon Stanley Loo spent 14 hours in two operations reconnecting the bones, nerves, blood vessels, tendons and skin.

Now, more than a year after surgery, Mr Mulholland, 62, said his digits had recovered so well they could do 70 per cent of the things he wanted them to.

The external scarring had almost gone and the thumb had recovered a good deal of movement, although he couldn't bend the index finger yet.

"I sometimes tape the index finger to the bloke next to him and that gets it bending."

The fiddliest task he had managed was to grip a staple between index finger and thumb and hammer it into a fence to hold a piece of wire.

"And it was only a little staple; it wasn't like a big fencing staple."

Mr Mulholland, the caregiver for his wife, who has Alzheimer's disease, has fortnightly sessions with a hand physiotherapist and works hard at home on the therapies she prescribes - massage, stretching, squeezing a ball.

Mr Loo said his patient was recovering "as we would have hoped".

"He has been a model patient. He has been compliant with physiotherapy. He's done everything we have asked of him.

"The sensation has returned to his finger and thumb, the blood supply has been fantastic. He's got some movement. There is a bit of scarring on the index finger. Otherwise he is doing remarkably well."

Further surgery might be needed to release the flexor tendon in the index finger which was restricted because of scarring, unless it released on its own.

"The flexor is scarred down to the underlying bone. That's why it's not moving. And that's basically due to the trauma from the amputation."

- NZ Herald

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