Roadblocks to Limb Reattachment

A Louisiana boy lost his arm Wednesday when an alligator attacked him and swallowed it.

Although the 11-year-old’s arm was retrieved from the alligator’s belly, doctors may have a difficult time reattaching it, said Dr. Manny Alvarez, managing editor of health for

“The issue with recovery of a limb from the intestinal tract of an animal is that the digestive process is such that damage to the tissue may make reattachment impossible,” he said.

Click here for a video on the attack.

Alvarez described several other roadblocks to limb reattachment:

— Timing. Depending on how long the limb has been severed from the body and how much dead tissue has accumulated, doctors may be unable to reattach it, Alvarez said. Cooling the amputated part, which slows tissue damage, can substantially increase the time that can elapse between injury and surgery.

— Severity of injury. If the area of the body where the limb is to be reattached suffered “crush” injuries, the chances of successful reattachment are slim.

“If there is significant nerve and root destruction, revulsion may occur because there aren’t enough nerves to reconnect,” Alvarez said.

— Lack of qualified surgeons. “Not every hospital is qualified to do reattachments,” Alvarez said. This is where timing becomes an issue because you need a very sophisticated team of doctors to perform this surgery.

Depending on the type of reattachment, microvascular surgeons, neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons may be needed to perform the reattachment, Alvarez added.