(NEW YORK) — An 8-month-old Chinese baby is recovering after a 12-hour operation to reattach her hands, which were reportedly cut off by her grandmother.
The injured baby was discovered by her mother, who arrived home from work to find the gory scene.
“Only 10 minutes later she dashed down holding her baby, who was covered with blood,” a neighbor in the Shandong Province of China told the Daily Mail. “The baby’s hands were gone.”
The grandmother, who had been caring for the baby, also cut herself in an apparent suicide attempt, the Daily Mail reported. She is currently in a coma.
The baby and her hands were rushed to a hospital, where a team of surgeons meticulously mended the severed bones, blood vessels, nerves and skin.
“Although prosthetics are pretty good, nothing can replace the human hand as far as function,” said Dr. Brian Labow, a plastic surgeon specializing in hand reconstruction at Boston Children’s Hospital. “But time is of the essence, because as soon as a hand is removed, it’s not getting any blood supply.”
Keeping the hands on ice until they’re ready to be replanted can help buy time, Labow said. But “until you have arteries and veins attached, the hands are essentially starving.”
The replant procedure can take as many as six surgeons, three nurses and three anesthesiologists, Labow said. “You can probably double that for two hands,” he said.
Once the blood vessels are connected, the surgeons can take their time carefully connecting the nerves under an operating microscope to restore hand function.
“You essentially stitch the two ends together, but it takes a while for the nerve to regenerate,” Labow said, describing how the severed nerve slowly grows out to muscles in the hand. “And a child is absolutely perfect in terms of healing potential.”
Unlike hand transplant recipients, hand replant patients do not need to take immunosuppressant drugs because the tissue is their own. And as long as the surgery is successful, the prognosis is good.
“Often there is some loss of fine motor function,” Labow said. “But if it’s a wrist-level injury, and a clean cut, we would expect extremely good hand function.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio