A man in China was able to recover his severed hand after doctors grafted it to his ankle for a month. The patient, identified only as Zhou, lost his left hand during a work accident in Xiangtan, in China’s Hunan province. He was rushed to a local hospital and then transferred to Xiangya hospital in the provincial capital, where surgeons chose to graft the severed hand to his ankle to ensure that sufficient blood supply would save the limb.

Tang Juyu, head of the hand microsurgery department at the hospital, told People ’s Daily Online: Instead of amputating Zhou’s hand, the surgeons kept it alive by grafting it to his ankle, so it can borrow a blood supply from the arteries of the leg. The patient’s hand was severely injured, and the nerves and tendons needed time to heal before reattachment surgery. A month later, surgeons were able to remove the hand and replant it back on his arm.

According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, the reattachment, also known as the “replantation” process, involves a number of steps: First, the damaged tissue is carefully removed; second, the bone ends are shortened and rejoined with pins, wires, or plates and screws to hold the part in place while the rest of the tissues restore; and third, muscles, tendons, arteries, nerves, and veins are then repaired. In several cases, grafts or artificial spacers of bone, skin, tendons, and blood vessels may be needed. The grafts can be from either the patient’s body or from a tissue bank.

Zhou now has slight movement in his fingers. However, he still requires further rehabilitation to regain full function of his hand. After the incident, Zhou recalled: "My mind went blank at that moment and I just thought that I had lost one hand."

The team of surgeons performed a similar procedure in 2013 when a man named Ziao Wei severed his right hand after operating a machine in a family workshop in China. Doctors were able to preserve his hand for a month by grafting it to his ankle while they repaired his right arm.

Amputation now seems like a last rather than a first option, thanks to microsurgery saving limbs.