Gulf War Vet's Arm Was Hanging by a Thread

USA TODAY, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Gulf War Vet's Arm Was Hanging by a Thread


A novel technique was used recently to save the arm of a Gulf War veteran at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. Navy veteran Royce Reid, 49, caught his left forearm on a pipe in a conveyor. The machinery twisted and mangled his arm, and nearly tore it off. With it held together only by a skin bridge, Reid's military survival training kicked in. He managed to free himself and even directed several who witnessed the accident on how to apply a tourniquet. Then he walked to an ambulance that had been called, supporting his own dangling forearm.

Bardia Amirlak, a hand surgery specialist and assistant professor of plastic surgery, recognized that he had a tough decision to make: whether to complete the amputation, knowing his patient would be able to return home soon and be fitted for a prosthetic arm, or attempt a marathon surgery with an unpredictable outcome and months of rehabilitation.

"He was in a lot of pain; he was in shock; and he was stressed from bleeding. As I was going to make the decision to amputate, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, 'I have grandkids and I want to hold them with my own hands. Do what you can to save my arm.' It was worth giving him a shot."

Surgery would he especially difficult because so much time had passed since the injury occurred. …

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