Leeches Help Save Man's Hand

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ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- A treatment used by the ancient Greeks is put to good use in the Stateline, as a pair of local doctors bring in leeches to help save a patient's hand from amputation.

“I'm glad I have my hand and to this day it's improving”, says Sam Leon.

Sam Leon nearly lost his left hand last May after it got stuck in a machine at his job in Sycamore. It was a horrific injury that's now on the mend thanks to a pair of skilled physicians, and some creepy crawly creatures; more than 1,400 leeches were used to keep the blood moving in Leon’s hand.

“The leeches are able to secrete a substance that that is a very powerful blood thinner and it allows your wound to continue to drain until your own veins drain and you don't need them anymore," says Dr. Brian Bear of Rockford Orthopedic Associates and one of the doctors to treat Leon

For 29 days, every 2 hours, Leon placed leeches around his fingers and palm to stimulate blood flow. He chose to put the leeches on himself with help from nurses at OSF ST. Anthony Medical Center.

"It clearly served a purpose and it was definitely a necessity and so sometimes you got to tighten up the belt and deal with it,” says Leon.

“Because the alternative was losing my hand or skin grafts or a skin flap so it seemed like a good idea."

The doctors on the case say in this type of injury, they have to amputate 80% of the time. Leon’s doctors say there were moments they weren't sure if they could save Leon’s hand, and at times, he says he had his own doubts about the treatment.

"When it comes down to it, those leeches biting down on my nail bed was the worst pain I’d ever felt,” says Leon.

"41 units of red blood cells were transfused into Mr. Leon in order to save his hand. Were they heroic efforts? Absolutely. Is there a price on having your hand back? Absolutely not,” says Dr. Pedro Rodriguez from OSF Medical Group

Leon says he is absolutely grateful to still have his hand, and while
cutting a steak can be a challenge, he says everyday he feels like he’s getting stronger. Doctors say he may not get 100% function back in his hand, but Leon says he continues to improve and continues physical therapy on his own at home.

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