1984 - Volume #8, Issue #1, Page #18[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Toe Replaces Missing Fingers
When the bettor objects, Steve pulls out his hand. Instead of the normal four fingers, Steve's right hand is a stump, with one very odd looking finger attached. On close inspection, and with some explaining, Steve usually convinces the stranger that the "finger" is really one of his own toes, transplanted from his right foot to his right hand.
Something as gruesome as the loss of all four fingers on your right hand should only be joked about by the victim, and then carefully. But as a 23-year-old farmer with lots of confidence in the future abilities of his remodeled hand, Steve is remarkably energetic and optimistic.
In fact, Steve seems more worried about finding a farm to move his cattle to this fall than about how to pick up and manipulate the thousands of tools and other objects a farmer uses. The modern marvel of advanced microsurgery, performed at University Hospital in Madison, has given Steve and his hand a future.
"I'd have went without before I'd have worn a hook," Steve asserts. But doctors feel that Steve will eventually be able to flex his toe and become quite adept at using it as a finger.
Steve retells his story in sequence. In December of 1981, Steve was picking corn for a neighbor on an icy day. The picker kept jamming.
"The back of the picker plugged up quite a few times that day, and I had a snowmobile mitten on, and I had an ear of corn, and I was poking that in while the picker was running, and it caught my mitten . . . The corn picker rollers were turning, and the husks were just like ice. Nothing was going through," Steve recalls. "When it started sucking in my fingers,' I turned my thumb across the rollers to stop it from taking me. Otherwise it probably would have taken my whole arm.
"I was across the highway picking for a neighbor. I had to wait until they came back with an empty wagon. Even after they shut it off, they had to bring up a cutting torch to cut me out of there," Steve continues. "I was pretty calm. I knew what had happened. I had to stay calm. Otherwise I was afraid of passing out with that thing running. I knew that my fingers weren't going to be there anymore once they got me out of there.
"They took me to Lancaster, and the doctor there sent me to Madison to University Hospital. They removed the fingers, and then they left it like that for 4 or 5 days to make sure there was no infection. They kept cleaning it and cleaning out the scabs," Steve narrates. "Then they took skin off my hip and put it on my hand.
"After a few months, they sent me to an outfit that made prostheses (artificial limbs)," Steve recalls. "When I got there, there was a wooden leg laying in a corner and an arm laying here. They went out of the room to get me a book to show me pictures of some more options, and I went out in the waiting room and got Karen and said, 'I ain't staying here.'
"They were talking about putting fake fingers on, or a half a hook, or making fake fingers that I could pinch up against with," Steve explains. "I figured if a mitten's going to get caught, how easy is it for something that hasn't got any feeling to get caught? You'd have to watch a hook 24 hours a day."
Eventually Steve got connected with Dr. Venkat Rao, microsurgical specialist at the University of Wisconsin Clinical Science Center in Madison. Rao did the complicated operation to move Steve's toe.
"They took the toe next to the big toe, along with the bones, tendons and arteries, all the way back up into the foot," Steve reports. Indeed, the scar reaches up to the ankle area on his foot, but you have to count the toes to realize there's something missing. "You wouldn't believe how many people say, 'Oh, they took the little toe,'" Steve relates. "But my foot feels no different."
Dr. Rao is one of the few practitioners of microsurgery in Wisconsin. He says that while the techniques can help some patients,
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