It was just another April day on a Western Australia farm for Zac Mitchell, until it suddenly wasn’t. In a freak accident described by the ABC, the cattle worker was herding the animals in his charge when one bull “cleaned me up and kicked my hand up against the rail,” he says, resulting in the thumb on his right hand being severed. “My thumb was still hanging on the rail … when I got up off the ground,” the 20-year-old says.
His co-workers tried their best to preserve the thumb for reattachment, placing it on ice in a cooler, but two surgeries to put Mitchell’s thumb back in place failed, the BBC reports. That’s when doctors came up with another suggestion, one Mitchell initially balked at: Transfer one of his big toes to where his thumb used to be.
Mitchell’s lead surgeon, Sean Nicklin, understood the man’s reluctance at first, calling it a “bit of a crazy idea.” “[Patients] do not want to be injured in another part of their body,” he tells the BBC, adding that big toes aren’t as necessary for balance and walking as people believe. But as the thumb is incredibly important function-wise, Mitchell eventually gave in.
Nicklin explains to the ABC that the big toe is surprisingly compatible for a thumb switch: Nerves sync up nicely, and it looks more like a thumb (albeit a giant one) than any other remedies they may have come up with.
The eight-hour surgery went well, and Mitchell is expected to have a year or so of rehab in front of him before he heads back into the fields. See photos here.