A team of Israeli surgeons performed the once unthinkable in June. Something that once would have been considered science fiction took place at the Hadassah Medical Center when a team of doctors reattached a young Palestinian boy’s head after he was hit by a car while riding his bike.
The first documented case of anything being reattached dates all the way back to 1814 when William Balfour successfully reattached three fingers to his son’s hand. Unfortunately, since so little was known about reattaching nerves, the fingers were little more than decoration, but it was still miraculous for its time.
As science and medicine progressed, doctors have gained the ability to reattach digits, arms, legs, and in some thankfully rare cases, even a penis, usually with full or almost full functionality, if the surgery is performed in a timely fashion.
While the surgery in Israel wasn’t exactly a completely detached head, it was as close as one could get and no less a miracle. The young boy’s head was technically detached from the base of his neck, and doctors sprang into action and saved him with a rare, risky surgery.
The boy had what is called a bilateral atlanto occipital joint dislocation. A fancy term for almost getting your head knocked off by a car. Luckily the surgeons kept theirs. Dr. Ohad Einav, the orthopedic specialist who led the operation, said this: “Our ability to save the child was thanks to our knowledge and the most innovative technology in the operating room.
— NDTV (@ndtv) July 14, 2023
Einav also said as they “fought for the boy’s life,” the several-hour procedure required “new plates and fixations in the damaged area” as the boy’s head was “almost completely detached from the base of his neck.”
The medical team revealed that the operation has only a 50% survival rate, making the boy’s recovery nothing short of a medical miracle. The surgery took place in June, but doctors waited until the boy was recovered and ready for discharge before they released information about the procedure.
The young man was sent home with just a cervical splint. Doctor Einav said: “The fact that such a child has no neurological deficits or sensory or motor dysfunction and that he is functioning normally and walking without an aid after such a long process is no small thing,”
No small thing appears to be a grand understatement. Hassan’s grateful father added: “Bless you all. Thanks to you, he regained his life even when the odds were low and the danger was obvious. What saved him were professionalism, technology and quick decision-making by the trauma and orthopedics team.”
Einav stressed that the surgery is unusual, but ironically the child’s large head contributed to the injury, as his smaller frame contributed to the rare detachment. He concluded: “This is not a common surgery at all, and especially not on children and teens. A surgeon needs knowledge and experience to do this.”
Dr. Marc Siegel, Clinical Professor of Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, weighed in: “The key is preserving blood flow to the brain. It sounds like — from the story — that the major blood vessels were likely not severed and that this involved an orthopedic rebuilding — probably using rods and reattaching ligaments and possibly bone grafts and implants.”
If it all sounds like a science fiction movie, it isn’t. Hassan was given another chance at life by a highly skilled team of surgeons and hopefully will live a long, normal life.
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