Toe-to-Thumb Transplant

Shannon Elliott's life changed in an instant when she lost her thumb and two fingers in an accident last November. But things are looking up for the 25-year-old thanks to a rare transplant of her big toe to her hand. 


    Left hand before surgery

    Shannon lost her thumb and two fingers on her left hand when someone threw an exploding M-80 firecracker from a moving car.  When she arrived at the hospital, her thumb and fingers were not salvageable and had to be amputated.  

    Before surgery

    Dr. Jason Ganz, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon specializing in hand surgery, spent months mapping out how he was going to perform the delicate procedure.  "It took several months of planning on our part. Looking at special vascular studies, and the CAT scans to look at the left toe, to make a surgical plan and a couple months of her just getting ready," Ganz said. "It’s a big step to take and a tough pill to swallow to risk a perfectly good toe to reconstruct a thumb even though it was really the operation for her."

    Large toe from left foot

    Dr.Ganz amputated Shannon's left big toe to replace her thumb. The toe-to-hand transplant surgery was a first for him and a first for Stony Brook Medical Center on Long Island, N.Y.  "Sometimes people will take the second toe, instead of the big toe. But I felt for her, because she was missing two other fingers, that she really needed the larger of the two toes to give her a stronger grasp and more functional thumb," he said.

    11 hour surgery

    Dr. Ganz and his team spent 11 hours in the operating room on June 7 transplanting Shannon's big toe to her left hand.  "The day of the surgery we had all the bases covered because the last thing I wanted to do was in a girl who already lost three fingers, was now to put a toe at risk and have something go wrong," Ganz said.

    Toe implanted on left hand

    It may look pretty painful in this photo - but Dr. Ganz said the surgery was a total success, and soon, he said Shannon will regain full use of her hand.  "Basically what she’ll go to therapy to make sure she does things gradually so all the repairs that we’ve done will stay intact," Ganz said. "As she makes a steady progress she should regain the vast majority of her hand function back."

    Toe implanted following surgery

    Dr. Ganz said he was very impressed at Shannon's optimistic attitude through the surgery process. "She has been very accepting and open-minded from the get go. She was maybe a little taken aback, but she was really motivated to go ahead. There was never a point she said 'no way forget about it, you’re crazy,'" he said.
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