Surgeons are modern day miracle workers but many of those miracles have come to be seen as routine – transplant surgeries, repairing badly broken bones, or reattaching severed digits or limbs. These surgeries can save or transform lives and reflect innovative techniques that were unheard of not so long ago. At the same time, surgeons are also pioneering new procedures that shock and amaze.
These 3 new surgeries are the result of radical experimentation and creativity, but they’re also an indicator of the hope medicine has always offered us. And they raise the question – what amazing things will medicine accomplish next?
Rotationplasty: Restoring Natural Movement
Amputation is a common component of treatment for children with bone cancers, but their youth also makes these children especially good candidates for prosthetics that can restore movement. Unfortunately, however, leg amputation above the knee can make this more difficult and traditional prostheses can be painful to use.
In order to restore joint movement in these patients, doctors have pioneered a procedure called rotationplasty, a process that involves reversing and reattaching the foot where the knee was before. Then when the prosthetic leg is attached, the foot naturally performs the bending and extension in place of the knee, helping patients walk, run, and play again.
The Brain: Now In 3-D
Most brain surgeries require cutting off a chunk of the skull in order to access the interior of the head, a process that makes the body extremely vulnerable. This sets it apart from many other surgeries today that can be performed laparoscopically – through small holes using images from a camera to navigate. Because of the complexity and delicacy of the brain, however, traditional laparoscopy cameras are insufficient.
Through technological collaboration with NASA, however, it’s now possible to perform 3-D laparoscopic brain surgery, navigating through a small hole to remove tumors. This reduces the recovery time for brain surgery and also reduces the risk involved in exposing large sections of brain.
Fetal Surgery: Born Twice
Fetal surgery has been developing in complexity for several years now, but historically has been used to either prevent severe disability or save the life of a not fully gestated fetus. Twin-twin transfusion syndrome, for example, occurs when twins share blood vessels, but often one twin ends up with a short supply of blood, risking its chances of survival. Severing the shared vessels is a relatively established, non-invasive fetal surgery.
More recently doctors have determined that fetal surgery for spina bifida shows better results than post-natal procedures. Performing the surgery in utero increases motor and cognitive capacities after birth, reduces the need for shunt placement in the first year, and reduces overall risk of death in that first year. Though this type of fetal surgery is relatively invasive, the outcomes make it worth the risk.
These three surgeries are only a snippet of the everyday miracles performed by surgeons, but they are also some of the most remarkable. Modern medicine is constantly pressing the limits of what we think of as possible, devising ways to contravene these old restrictions. What will they think of next?