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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"In a matter of months the finger can grow up to 6 cm"
 real 56k

Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Surgery to 'regrow' fingers
frame and finger
The bones are held in place by a metal frame
One of the first UK patients to undergo a stretching technique on the stump of a missing finger has spoken about the operation.

David Metcalfe, an engineer from Cheshire who lost the ends of three fingers in an industrial accident says he is "delighted" with the results so far.

His middle finger - left a stump by the accident - has been broken and extended by more than a centimetre, with a rigid frame bolted to the knuckle and finger bone holding them in place while the bone regrows to fill the gap.

I'm very impressed, I must admit. The technique is sensational.

David Metcalfe, patient
The technique, called the Ilizarov Method, has been taught to plastic surgeons at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary by a professor from Russia, Hussein Rustam Ogly Ismailov.

People who have lost several fingers as the result of accidents - or who have congenital deformities of the hands - would be considered for the treatment.

It is hoped that as many as 20 patients a year who have lost digits after accidents in the forestry, construction and oil industries could eventually benefit.

Bigger bones

The technique has been used for decades for operations on leg or arm bones - but has only recently been attempted on the smaller bones of the hand.

frame being attached
The operation in progress
Consultant plastic surgeon Mr John Holmes told the BBC that it was a testing piece of surgery.

He said: "We may find it quite difficult to emulate the technical ability of Professor Ismailov, but with training we should be able to do it.

"Mr Metcalfe will now have some use of the hand because his middle finger is the same length as the other two."

He said it would be impossible to restore a completely severed finger to its original length, as the remaining skin would not be able to stretch sufficiently to cover the new digit.

An x-ray of the frame
After the finger is broken, extended and then fixed to the frame, it takes two months for the bone to regrow before the frame can be removed.

Mr Metcalfe, 38, said that the operation would improve his self-confidence.

He told the BBC: "It's obviously going to make my quality of life much better.

"I'm very impressed, I must admit. The technique is sensational.

David Metcalfe lost three fingers
"I'm just fortunate to have received the treatment.

"The feeling or the sensation of the device itself, it's almost like it's not there.

"The only sensation I find is where the pins actually penetrate the skin, it's just a wee bit tight."

He said that he hoped to have more surgery to increase the length of the other two fingers affected by the accident.

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