Fingertip Regeneration: A Patient's Story
A budding cricket star from Mumbai was all set to shine for the country in the future. Suddenly, he had the tip of his right thumb ripped off in a freak accident on the cricket field. He was desperate to save his thumb and regain its full function.
The Story of a Budding Cricket Star.
In a cricket match, a missed catch.
It would have been a spectacular catch. The batsman did not quite get hold of the ball as well as he would have liked, and it flew off the bat. I was waiting, getting ready to dive and pluck it out of the air. I looked up. That was a mistake. The sun blinded me for a second, and at that moment, my life changed. I never saw the ball as it came down, crashing into my right hand. Losing my balance, I fell, with both the ball and my hand coming down on the hard ground with a thud. When I opened my eyes, the ball had rolled some distance away on the ground, and there was a deep gash in my thumb. I have been playing cricket since I was a child, but never knew a cricket ball could be so hard.
Of pain, sweat, and blood.
I don’t even remember how I got back to the dressing room. Back at the dressing room, when I opened up my clenched fist, I saw to my horror that the tip of my thumb was missing. Blood spurted from one side of the thumb with some force, sprinkling my face and dress. For a moment, it reminded me of one Quentin Tarantino movie, where blood poured like geysers when people had their heads cut off with samurai swords. It was eerily similar. Coming back to reality, I understood my right thumb was in a hopeless situation. I realized I was in deep trouble.
But life must go on.
What I remember afterward is that the team physician put some medicines on top of the wound, and pressed it hard for what appeared to be an eternity. Several minutes later, when the blood stopped spurting, he applied tight bandages over the wound. With dressings, painkillers, and other medicines, the wound became manageable, and I remembered about our cricket match once again. It was an important match, and we had prepared for it for a long time. The team manager patted me on the back, and said, “Go get them, Tiger.”
Easy is not the best.
A day after the match, in which we won narrowly, the wound seemed to settle down. My mates took me to a bone surgeon who said that he will soon fix my problem. He would shorten my thumb with surgery while cutting off the last part of the bone. The tip of my missing thumb looked red and white. It had a deep gash, and it was bad. But I suddenly was afraid of not being able to grip the bat or ball anymore. Ugly thoughts lurked inside my mind, and my fear took over, saying that my cricketing career was going to be over just when it was about to flourish. All that I had worked so hard for was about to vanish in an instant. This horrible loss of thumb tip would leave me with a ruined future. I did not want it to happen. My broken thumb became my enemy, and I had to cope with it, but I could not figure out how.
When fear takes over.
My self-confidence was vanishing, and with it, my social life. I used to be a hit with the ladies. Suddenly I thought I would become “that dumb guy without a thumb” and my friends would avoid me. Eventually, I decided that a broken thumb would not define me. I can be better than that. I went to see more doctors–orthopedic and plastic surgeons who were renowned for their hand surgeries. The orthopedic surgeons advised me to shorten my thumb by removing the last bit of bone with a short surgery, an operation they named ‘terminalisation’. Plastic surgeons said that they will put skin and tissues from other areas of the hand while trimming my bones just a little, with an operation they called ‘flap surgery’.
With a broken right thumb, I was, to use the old cliché, broken for life. Physical deformity almost always leads to emotional deformity. Unkindly cuts in our body run deep, even more so if that cut involves our working right hand. Our hands, and especially our thumb, allow us to be who we are. It is uniquely human and differentiates us from the rest of the animals. I finally decided that a broken thumb would not define me. I am a sports person, competitive and determined. Players do not admit defeat that easily. I read everything I could find about thumb regrowth and decided that seeing another doctor may be the answer.
Read, learn, and know.
I learned that fingers, once shortened, remain short forever. Once they are broken, they stay as they are. However, we are not living in the dark ages anymore. Many treatments are available to change body appearance and regenerate the lost parts so that they become hardly noticeable. I read top hand surgeons in the United States writing about the theoretical possibility of finger regeneration, but they were not able to perform the technique. Then I read a patient’s review that in the hands of a skillful plastic surgeon like Dr. Srinjoy Saha of Kolkata, India, his finger had regrown and become almost normal.
A journey into the unknown.
I canceled my flap surgery scheduled in Mumbai, India, and flew over to the opposite end of the country to consult Dr. Srinjoy Saha. He was unique in being a Harvard-trained doctor and had an in-depth understanding of wound regeneration. He showed me how he had regrown destroyed fingers with abdominal fat, an event that got published in the newspapers earlier. Dr. Saha also talked about how he was now attempting to regrow fingertips by combining biomaterials, cells, and growth agents.
Along the path less traveled.
Dr. Srinjoy Saha appeared to be just the surgeon I was looking for. He was humble, kind, and understanding. He offered me a wonderful treatment option with no other cuts elsewhere over my body. None of the doctors I met earlier told me about this! I was not comfortable about putting my thumb in the abdomen or hand for 3 weeks continuously. Of course, I feared the final results since a lot would depend upon my body’s regenerative power. After deliberating with my family, I ultimately decided on trying out regenerative surgery. Though I was nervous, my determination did not waver.
Creating a new fingertip out of thin air.
I had all my surgeries performed under local anesthesia. At first, Dr. Saha took some fat from my thighs and some blood from my veins. He worked upon them within the operating room itself and placed them over my injured thumb. I was curious to know about this type of surgery, and he showed me some steps. I felt good - like I was a part of the treatment! After three days, when the dressings got opened, I saw new reddish areas appearing over the broken last part of the thumb bone. Now, he placed biomaterial over my lost areas and injected medicines all around the thumb injury. I used to follow up every 10 days when he would dress the finger and inject medicines all around the injured areas.
Success is surreal.
After about one and a half months, I saw that most of my thumb had regenerated. I was over the moon! However, Dr. Saha urged me to be cautious and asked me to continue taking all precautions. After another two weeks, and about two months since I started treatment, I found that my entire thumb had grown back to its original shape. I could touch, feel, and work with that thumb normally, as I used to do before. I was literally on cloud nine! Finally, the surgery saved my thumb, and with it, my life. All the hard toil that I had put in since my childhood in perfecting my skills in cricket would not go to waste anymore.
Back to the grind.
I started resuming cricket practice slowly. Three months after my thumb had recovered completely, I was back in the stadium once again, playing for my team. My right hand worked perfectly. I could grip the bat and the ball just as well as I did before my injury. I felt all that old confidence rushing back into me, even as hopelessness, despair, and self-doubt were vanishing. As the match progressed, so did my self-confidence. I was focusing on the moment, concentrating on every bit of my play. In the end, we won handsomely, and I received the man of the match award.
Guts and glory.
In the after-match party in a posh hotel that evening, I was the focus of all attention. Suddenly, I had turned into a hero from being a spent force, a has-been, with people falling over themselves to congratulate me. Even in all that glitter and the drama, I remembered what I had gone through a few months earlier. Where were all these people during that time? Only my parents and my plastic surgeon had given me hope, stood by me solid as a rock, and prevented me from getting swallowed by despair. Today, I’d not be here without the advanced regenerative plastic surgery that I was so fortunate to receive. These thoughts flitted through my mind as I turned towards a recent visitor, an attractive young lady who professed how ardently she liked my performance.
Life is beautiful!
Credits: The young cricketer's story (who preferred to be anonymous) was transcribed and written for this article by Jyotirmoyee Chakraborty and Igert Le Roux.