SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WICS/WRSP) — A tragic accident for a central Illinois farmer is creating buzz in the medical community after a unique surgery performed for the first time in the Midwest is giving him a new life.
For every farmer, the fall means harvest season and one of the busiest times of the year.
“We had just gotten to a new farm chopping silage and basically chopping full corn crop," said local farmhand Benjamin Heineman. "I had just literally picked up my nephew in the tractor when I told him we needed to fix the blower before we could take another pass."
However, fixing that blower soon became a medical emergency when it sliced through his hand, amputating it at a metacarpal level. The only finger left on his hand was his thumb which also had several injuries.
“I had them send me some photographs and I immediately started planning a surgery from then," said Dr. Tim Daughtery, an assistant professor for the Institute of Plastic Surgery at SIU.
Just days prior, Dr. Daughtery was at the Curtis National Hand Center and Johns Hopkins learning a new procedure called ectopic banking.
His specialty is orthopedic hand and upper extremity surgery, which he now practices at Memorial Medical Center in partnership with SIU Medical.
"I took the hand and started working on it even before he got to the operating room and started repairing the structures on the back table," Dr. Daughtery said.
Once Heineman was prepared and brought into the operating room, Dr. Daughtery started the next complex steps to save the amputated hand.
“The first surgery itself took about 8 hours and then that allowed us to do the microsurgery and prepare the vascular structures so that he had ingrowth of blood vessels into the hand," Dr. Daughtery said.
The procedure then kept the amputated portion of the hand alive for six weeks on Heineman's right forearm.
“Pretty much anybody that comes in here I say 'hey you wanna see something cool' and see how they react,” Heineman said.
Heineman also explained that working with medical students and nurses helped him process what happen and start healing from the emotional trauma caused by the injury.
"There were moments when I felt that I just wanted to be done with it and didn't want to try and save it. But, then I would get messages from people on social media and it really lifted my spirit to see the hope it gave some of them to see something like this was possible," Heineman said.
Then six weeks later Heineman went back under the knife. This time he spent 12 hours on the table while Dr. Daughtery removed Heineman's amputated hand from his forearm and planted it back on his left hand where it belonged.
"I want him to have better function than a prosthetic would give him which would be the dexterity that the fingers can provide as well as sensation, which is the one major thing that prosthetic cannot give you,” Dr. Daughtery said.
Now Heineman's hand is recovering and all are hopeful for the future. Both Heineman and Dr. Daughtery share that they don't think there were any coincidences and that the time frame worked out the way it did for a reason.
“SIU being a smaller place you would think that they wouldn’t be known at the national level like they are for hand surgeries. So I’m very fortunate to have trained at some of the best institutions for hand surgeries and I’m glad that I can continue on with that tradition," Dr. Daughtery said.
“I just have to stay in a good mindset and say ‘this is unfortunate but I can do a lot of good with it,"' Heineman said.