DALLAS — It may look like part of a scary Halloween costume, but for 49-year-old Royce Reid, a medieval-looking contraption that perpetually strings his fingers up is a thing of beauty.
"I'm lucky guy to have it," said Reid. "I'm a lucky guy to be alive. Yes!"
Reid's left arm was severed in late August in a workplace accident in Gilmer.
In the hours it took to get him from a hospital in Longview to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, the Navy veteran — who survived both Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield — nearly bled to death.
"When the muscles start to die, you cannot put the arm back on," explained Dr. Bardia Amirlak, a University of Texas Southwestern plastic surgeon who was on call at Parkland when Reid was brought in to the trauma center.
Dr. Amirlak thought at first there was little chance of saving an arm amputated seven hours earlier, which is typically longer than an amputated limb is viable.
"At the end, he looked at me and said, 'I want to hold my grandchildren with my own arm,'" Dr. Amirlak said. "Of course we had talked about prosthesis and other options, but that's when I made the decision to make an effort to put his arm back on. Thinking about, he had served our country before — and now we have to help him."
Dr. Amirlak, who is part of the newly created UT Southwestern hand transplant team, decided to try an experimental procedure that had never been written about or formally taught. Dr. Amirlak had only heard about the technique.
In order to restore oxygen to Reid's amputated arm, he transfused blood directly from Reid's left leg.
"We hooked a tube up to the artery in leg, and took it outside his body and transfused it directly into his arm to keep it alive," Dr. Amirlak explained. "We did that while we are working on his bones and the blood vessels to keep the muscle alive."
"The blood oozes out," he went on, "You have to be very careful to control how much you transfuse and you have to do it very quickly while you're hooking up the vessels so he doesn't lose too much blood."
Eighteen hours of surgery and two months later, Reid is regaining some sensation and slight movement in an arm he never expected to see or feel again.
"I thought that when I went into surgery and came out, I didn't think I would have a hand," Reid said. "I was glad to see one when I came out of surgery though!"
And, he has big plans for the arm doctors heroically saved.
"Once I get this brace off of it and be able to use it," he says, "I plan on holding my grandkids again."
Reid will have his third skin graft surgery Thursday morning.
Doctors said it may take many more operations and years of rehab. They are hopeful Royce Reid will regain full function of his arm.