Surgeons build thumb from seaman's toe

BRITISH SURGEONS have reconstructed the thumb of a seaman who was injured while working on an oil tanker.

Emilio Valerio, 35, had his thumb ripped out when a rope with a 15- ton breaking strain snapped. Surgeons at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust in London spent six months rebuilding his hand, culminating in the transplant of a toe to create a substitute thumb.

Yesterday, doctors removed a pin from Mr Valerio's new "thumb" in the final stage of the surgery.

Mr Valerio was loading oil by hose on to the 100,000-ton tanker in Nigeria when the accident happened last May. A crane driver manoeuvring the hose did not see him and when the rope broke it whipped backwards with explosive force. "I am lucky it was only my thumb," he said yesterday.

A helicopter took him to hospital in Lagos with his severed thumb packed in ice. His employers, Chevron, the United States oil company, arranged an air ambulance to fly him to London the same night. However, delays in obtaining the necessary exit papers prevented his departure until four days later. By that time, his Nigerian doctors decided his thumb would be no use and discarded it. "If they had sent it with me, the surgeons at St Thomas' could have salvaged the bone and tendons," he said.

Ciaran Healy, consultant plastic surgeon at St Thomas', said the injury had left a deep hole in Mr Valerio's hand which had to be rebuilt. First, he took bone from his hip and transferred it to his hand to create the foundation for a new digit. For three weeks Mr Valerio had his hand sewn into an incision in his groin to provide it with a substitute blood supply. And in the final operation, which lasted eight hours, surgeons transplanted the second toe from his foot using microscopes to attach blood vessels and nerves. Mr Healy said: "Each stage in the operation worked wonderfully."

Surgeons say he will eventually have a near normal grip, but Mr Valerio said he could already pick up small objects.

Today he is flying home to the Philippines for Christmas. When he returns to work in the new year, Chevron has promised that an offer of promotion to chief officer, made before his injury, remains open.

"It is like having a blank cheque," Mr Valerio said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'