Headlines were made a few weeks ago by a report of the oldest evidence to date of a surgical limb amputation – namely, the removal of a child’s left foot in Borneo some 31,000 years ago.
According to the report in the scientific journal Nature, “the individual survived the procedure and lived for another 6-9 years,” indicating that at least some of the island’s inhabitants “had developed sophisticated medical knowledge and skills long before the Neolithic (a period lasting roughly from 10,000–4,500 B.C.) farming transition.”
An impressive feat, to be sure, given the lack of modern medical tools and knowledge. Fast-forward to today, and amputations are of course much more common; according to the Amputee Coalition of America, some 185,000 amputations occur in the U.S. each year.
But as opposed to 10,000 B.C., amputations may not even be necessary except in instances of severe traumatic injury or a condition that is immediately life-threatening. Today it is very easy to amputate a limb; it is much more difficult to save a limb.
At White Plains Hospital, we believe every limb is worth saving, as proven by our Limb Preservation and Restoration program. The program, which began roughly a year ago, involves a team of physicians and specialists meeting on a monthly basis to determine if and how we can help patients regain maximum mobility, return to work and activities, and maintain their quality of life. That team includes experts in wound care, vascular surgery, infectious diseases, podiatry, orthopedics, endocrinology, surgical oncology and even plastic surgery, the last of which no one else in Westchester County is doing. We also offer hyperbaric medical therapy, which an be an immense aid in promoting healing.
That we are all based at the White Plains Hospital Center for Advanced Medicine & Surgery (CAMS) makes collaboration even easier, in turn making for a smoother experience for patients by eliminating the need for them to have to shuffle from building to building or even hospital to hospital.
Our experts offer hope to people who may have an increased risk of amputation due to chronic disease, wounds or injury. Limb-threatening conditions commonly treated by our team include:
• Peripheral artery disease
• Ischemic ulcers and wounds
• Diabetic wounds
• Surgical and traumatic wounds
• Radiation wounds
• Compromised surgical flaps
• Cancer ablation wounds
• Deformity due to developmental issues, trauma, or effects of diabetes (Charcot arthropathy)
Amputation may ultimately prove the best path to take, but our team only resorts to it after all other approaches have been exhausted. Approximately 95% of the cases we see as a team can be addressed at the monthly meetings; only in those most pressing cases mentioned above do we proceed immediately to limb removal.
Cutting off a foot to save a life was likely the only way to go in ancient Borneo. 31,000 years later, there are potentially better options available.
Dr. Joseph Cavorsi is Medical Director of the White Plains Hospital Wound Care Center and Hyperbaric Medicine, located in CAMS. For an appointment, call 914-948-1000.