ZAC Mitchell has returned home following surgery to remove his toe and attach it to where his thumb was ripped off by a bull.
The former St Stanislaus’ College student had been working on a remote cattle property in Western Australia when the incident occurred.
Mr Mitchell, 20, fell from a bull and his hand was trampled.
His right thumb was torn off and a hoof-sized patch of skin was ripped from his hand.
Following two unsuccessful attempts to reattach his thumb he was flown to Sydney for treatment by Dr Sean Nicklin in the Sydney Hospital Hand Foundation.
“I knew pretty much straight away, [with] a young guy like this, a toe is always the best replacement,” plastic surgeon Dr Nicklin said.
He acknowledged that the operation might sound unusual, but said the big toe was the closest match for a thumb that had been lost.
“Your thumb and your toe are not that different,” he said.
Dr Nicklin lead the team who performed two surgeries on Mr Mitchell following the accident, and he said the young man has recovered well so far.
“We don’t do them often, a total toe for thumb, but I do them every 18 months or so,” he said.
Dr Nicklin said Mr Mitchell was “extremely down-to-earth” and has coped well with the surgeries.
“He just wondered if it was the best thing and we just got on with it,” he said.
But the journey for Mr Mitchell is not over yet, with another surgery and more rehabilitation work to ensure he gets as much use as possible out of his new digit.
“We’ll do another surgery in a few months to free up scaring and tendons to make them work a little better,” Dr Nicklin said.
“Then, we’ll wait for the nerves to heal, this can take up to 12 months.”
Dr Nicklin said he does not foresee any balance problems for the majority of Mr Mitchell’s day-to-day tasks.
“Skateboarding or surfing might be a challenge, but anything else would be fine,” he said.
When asked if Mr Mitchell would be able to ride bulls again, Dr Nicklin said he thought his patient was hopeful.
“I think he will do what he can to get back on,” he said.
Dr Nicklin has been a plastic surgeon with the Sydney Hospital Hand Foundation for the past 11 years, and while me might have performed these operations before, he did admit they are difficult.
“This operation was probably the most stressful operation that I’ve done,” he said.
The Sydney Hospital Hand Foundation is a charitable organisation devoted to improving treatment and preventing injury and disease of the hand, wrist and forearm.
The foundation is closely affiliated with Sydney Hospital Hand Unit, and Dr Nicklin said it aims to educate the public and other doctors on hand conditions.