Show jumper Paul Halpern has made history for an equine-related event — but not for his riding; rather he is the recipient of an unusual medical treatment for an equine-caused injury. While feeding one of his horses a carrot, the horse bit off a third of his right index finger (don’t we always tell our kids to make sure the horse doesn’t eat their fingers?) Although a friend retrieved the missing end of the finger and they kept it chilled using a Popsicle, by the time Halpern arrived at the hospital the end of his finger could not be reattached.
At this point, Halpren got lucky. Although the insurance company wanted medical professionals to amputate the rest of the digit, Halpern traveled from New Jersey to Florida to be treated by Dr. Dr. Eugenio Rodriguez, who was able to regrow the finger — including bone soft tissue and the nail, using a cutting edge and rare technique: the implantation of a xenograph.
Xenograph implantation involves transplanting living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another. In this case, Dr. Rodriguez used a pig bladder to make a template of the severed portion of Halpern’s finger and attached it to the remaining stump and big bladder powder was applied
‘It stimulates your body to attract your stem cells and then the stem cells start producing the tissue that is missing,’ Dr. Rodriguez told NBC Miami.
Amazingly, over a two month period, the finger grew back. Bone, soft tissue and even the nail regrew into the shape defined by the mold. Even more astonishing, the procedure was painless and so simple that Halpern was able to complete the process — which involved applying powder made from pulverized pig bladder to the unhealed stump every day then wrapping it in a protective sheet soaked in saline — at home.
While Halpern’s injury was not life threatening, the success of the treatment is heartening. Xenotransplants could save the lives of thousands of people waiting for donated organs or people like Halpern who have lost limbs through traumatic injury.
Interestingly, pigs are currently thought to be among the best candidates for organ donation. According to Wikipedia:
The risk of cross-species disease transmission is decreased because of their increased phylogenetic distance from humans .They are readily available, their organs are anatomically comparable in size, and new infectious agents are less likely since they have been in close contact with humans through domestication for many generations
Dr. Rodriguez said that he was the first medical professional in Florida to prescribe the treatment.