A WA cattle worker whose thumb was chopped off in a tussle with a bull has had his big toe surgically removed and attached to his hand in a remarkable medical feat by a Sydney surgeon.
Despite efforts to preserve the thumb by stashing it among cold beers, 20-year-old bull rider ZacMitchell was told the radical surgery was the best option for returning function to his hand.
The entire thumb was ripped off after a bull kicked his hand and slammed the thumb against a fence on a remote cattle property near Halls Creek in northern WA in April.
Surgeons removed his right toe and attached it to his right hand. He was treated at the Sydney Hospital/Sydney Eye Hospital’s specialist hand unit where Dr Sean Nicklin first suggested they needed to cut off Mr Mitchell’s toe — much to his dismay.
During the eight-hour operation, one of two tendons in Mr Mitchell’s index finger was removed and used to attach the toe to the hand. Bone, nerves and blood vessels were also attached.
Remarkably, Mr Mitchell said losing his big toe has not had a huge effect on his ability to walk. “I haven’t fallen over anyway, I don’t think it’s had much of an effect on the balance,” he said.
He is expected to have strong function in the new thumb, allowing him to return to his work as a ringer and get back in the saddle as a bull rider. The surgery was done on June 30 and Mr Mitchell will need rehabilitation for more than 12 months.
Dr Nicklin said surgery to replace a thumb with a toe was rare and patients often needed time to grapplewith the concept.