Recep Kaya is just one of the thousands of people who suffer workplace accidents throughout Turkey. Three years ago, he lost the thumb on his left hand while operating machinery during a night shift. Two efforts to stitch the severed thumb resulted in failure leaving Mr. Kaya with no choice but to accept defeat. 37-year old Recep Kaya says “I was always trying to hide my hand” and described how the accident affected him deeply both psychologically and physically. After being employed for just four months, the accident changed the course of the lives of Recep Kaya and his family. The family along with their two young children were forced to abandon their home in Izmit to return to their village which they had left years earlier where they moved in with his parents. Being forced to depend on others to meet his basic needs, constantly trying to hide his hand in his pocket or by wrapping it in cloth, and even being unable to tie his daughter’s shoelaces resulted in Mr. Kaya sinking into a depression. However, he researched his options and came across Prof. Dr. Şükrü Yazar, a Plastic, Reconstructive and Esthetic Surgeon at Acıbadem Maslak Hospital. In November 2014, Prof. Dr. Şükrü Yazar first rejuvenated the tissue in the area of the missing digit by using tissue from Recep Kaya’s groin. After 9 months, Recep Kaya’s underwent surgery where his second toe was transplanted into the place of his left thumb.
7 hour surgery with two large medical teams
Prof. Dr. Şükrü Yazar, who described the 7-hour surgery as being ‘sophisticated and advanced”, performed the procedure successfully with his team. Recep Kaya’s second toe on his right foot was expertly transplanted with its functions intact into the place of the missing thumb. Generally, there are two medical teams who perform these types of lengthy and complicated procedures. The first team uses micro-surgical methods to prepare the toe for transplantation while the second team, simultaneously prepares the nerves, tendons and bone in preparation to receive the toe. Then, the bones and tendons in the hand and toe are identified. Prof. Dr. Şükrü Yazar “Finally, we attached the nerves and blood vessels by using microsurgical methods under a surgical microscope. The experience of the surgical team is extremely important. Complicated surgery such as toe transplants are extremely effective methods of enabling patients to resume their working and social lives and to regain full function in their hand. Our thumb is not only part of our hand, but it also manages 50% of our lives”.
He can now tie his daughter’s shoelaces!
A year after the surgery, Prof. Dr. Şükrü Yazar explains that the functions in Recep Kaya’s new thumb are at very pleasing levels. He adds that with this new thumb, Recep Kaya has regained his fine and gross motor skills, just as with a real thumb. Dr. Yazar explains that it is usual for further surgery to be required in situations where a digit has been severed such as this but that Recep Kaya does not need further surgery as his treatment has progressed quickly and successfully. Prof. Dr. Şükrü Yazar adds “Recep Bey could use his left hand 40-50% of the time but now he has regained 100% function. He can hold jugs, carry heavy items, tie his daughter’s shoelaces and despite his left hand being affected, he can even hold a pencil”. Prof. Dr. Şükrü Yazar states that thumb transplants are able to be performed at only a few centers, and he emphasizes that the missing toe will not pave the way for any further problems.
‘I’m no longer incomplete!’
Following a period of physical therapy, Recep Kaya is able to use his new thumb and happily says “I no longer feel incomplete and dependent on others for my basic needs. I don’t feel that I have to constantly try to hide my hand. My mother no longer has to cut the nails on my right hand as I am able to do so and I can also tie my daughter’s shoelaces easily. Their happiness makes me even happier”. Recep Kaya states that he does not feel that his right foot is incomplete without the toe and says “I don’t feel its loss physically or psychologically. In fact, some of my friends don’t even realize my thumb is a toe”. His daughter Aybüke, who is 11 years old today, is delighted that her father has regained his health.