Doctors re-attach woman’s arm in unprecedented surgery 11 months after it was sliced off in a car accident

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A mother-of-two has had her arm re-attached in a groundbreaking operation less than a year after it was sliced off in a car accident.

Kelsey Ward, from Schertz, Texas, was driving home from work in April 2016 when her SUV rolled off an exit ramp and turned over. 

A metal guardrail crashed through the passenger window and cut her arm off above her elbow.

Years ago, that kind of incident would have left Kelsey with a stump.

But in a surgery never performed before in Texas, doctors at San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) were able to successfully replant her severed arm.

It’s a procedure that’s been done fewer than 10 times in the US.

Doctors say Kelsey is recovering well, achieving small tasks like picking up a banana at the grocery store – and even the seemingly impossible, like doing push-ups.

Kelsey says she can’t remember what happened the night she left work and drove home in April 2016.

She doesn’t remember even getting in her car, so she’s not sure was caused her SUV to roll off an exit ramp and flip over.

A metal guardrail pierced Kelsey’s passenger window and lopped off her right arm just above her elbow.

She was left trapped inside and hanging upside down, with her seat belt still attached.

But San Antonio firefighters and paramedics arrived quickly and used tourniquets to stop the bleeding while they raced to free her.

‘Then when we got her out of the car, that’s when someone said, “Y’all need to look for the arm”,’ San Antonio firefighter Ryan Dunivan told News 4 SA.

‘We were walking around and I happened to see just her fingertips on the other side of the vehicle under the roof of the car. Then we got spreaders under there just enough to pull the arm out.’ 

The arm was put onto the ambulance with Kelsey and taken to Fort Sam Houston and the Level One Trauma Center at SAMMC.

Dr (Lt Col) Joe Alderete was told of the incoming case, but thought arm replanatation would be unlikely given the infections and other complications that can emerge as well as the many surgeries that would be needed.

‘I was thinking there’s absolutely no way. Most of the time these [accident victims] are crush injuries and not amenable to replantation,’ he told News 4 SA.

However, the guardrail had almost cleanly sliced Kelsey’s arm, making it easier to reattach the severed tissue, despite the several broken bones in her severed arm and the other injuries she had suffered in the crash, including a broken pelvis.

Dr Alderete’s team included two vascular surgeons, a hand surgeon, a back-up hand surgeon and a plastic surgeon, along with many other SAMMC medical staffers.

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