Dealing with Accidental Amputations

Hands in gloves putting on a bandageAccidental amputation of limbs can happen at any time and any place, and young children’s delicate limbs are most at risk. Not only are young children’s bodies not fully formed, and therefore easier ‘to break’, but little children don’t understand the dangers posed by doors and drawers.

In the UK, one case that hit national media headlines was that of little Sophie Dedek, who lost a fingertip while at a nursery taster session. Staff didn’t even realise the finger had been severed until someone spotted it on the floor while cleaning. Sophie’s parents arrived to find their child’s hand wrapped in a blood soaked towel and the fingertip in a cup of ice. Unfortunately, despite surgeons working for more than two hours to try to reattach the fingertip, Sophie is now left maimed for life. If the correct procedures had been followed, the outcome may have been entirely different.

Treating an amputated limb

The most common accidental amputation is a finger, but whatever the limb affected the treatment will be the same. There is likely to be a lot of blood, and bleeding is the first thing you must control:

  • Apply firm pressure to the finger with something dry and clean. If you have your first aid kit nearby, use some sterile gauze.
  • Raise the finger above the heart: this will help slow the flow of blood to the finger.
  • Call for an ambulance.
  • Inspect the finger to see if it is intact

Preserving the severed limb

With the bleeding under control, the amputated piece of the finger will need to be properly preserved for the paramedics and proceeding surgical procedure. If the amputated finger part is dirty, rinse it under running water. Wrap it in damp, sterile gauze (or, failing this, use paper towel) and seal it in a plastic bag to ensure the air doesn’t get to it.. Finally, place the sealed plastic bag on a bed of ice and water.

Avoid the common mistake

The most common mistake, and one of the accumulating mistakes made by Sophie’s nursery, is to place the severed finger directly into ice. This only causes more damage and reduces the possibility of reattachment.

Whatever you do, don’t separate the finger from the child. Make sure they stay together the whole journey to the hospital. Plastic surgeons have fantastic abilities to ‘do the impossible’ – but they can only do this if they have the equipment available to do so, and the most important piece of that equipment is the severed limb!