A DeKalb man almost loses his hand after a work-related injury. His case is something a couple Rockford area doctors have never seen before. Recovery was unusual too.
"The teachings would say that that injury usually ends up in an amputation." -says Rockford Orthopedic Dr. Brian Bear.
Last year, DeKalb resident Sam Leon got his hand caught in a roller press at work. We have images of his injury, but they're too graphic to reveal.
"It tore all the veins, many of the nerves, some of the arteries to his hand." -Dr. Bear explains.
For Sam, healing sucks. Literally. Leeches were used to repair his left hand.
"Leeches are able to secrete a substance that is a very powerful blood thinner and it allows your wound to continue to drain until your own veins have reformed and you don't need them anymore." -Dr. Bear says.
Sam says leech therapy was a painful experience, but he stayed focused on one goal.
"I just wanted to keep my hand. I had to do whatever I had to do to make this end up the best that it possibly could." -Sam explains.
Sam's hand is now functional, but some simple tasks most people might take for granted are difficult for him.
"Small objects, like a fork and knife are very difficult. Just having the strength to squeeze it, it's really hard to, for example a steak, it's hard to hold it steady while you're trying to cut it."
OSF St. Anthony Medical Center Dr. Pedro Rodriguez and Dr. Bear worked with Sam. They say they've never seen an injury like his, because his entire hand needed repairing. Usually it's just one finger. While leech therapy is something both physicians have used, this still was a new recovery experience.
"Have I ever used 1,400 leeches on a patient? No. I never expected it to require that much." -says Dr. Rodriguez.
During recovery, Sam applied six leeches every two hours for almost a month. But, because of the severity of his injuries, there was a time during treatment when doctors thought there was no chance he'd be where he is today.
Dr. Bear says, "The fact that we were able to save it was almost a miracle. It's safe to call it pretty much a miracle. We weren't certain it was going to live."
Doctors say Sam Leon's hand will never be 100% functional, but they're working to get him to 80-85% and make improvements in his quality of life.
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