Woman scalped in tractor accident received life-changing reconstructive surgery

Piron Guillaume via Unsplash

A Danish woman has undergone a rare and complicated surgery after being scalped in a tractor accident.

The woman, in her mid-60s, was fixing her tractor when her hair got caught in a drill, ripping the skin from her head all the way from her eyebrows to the hairline on her neck, surgeons said.

Miraculously, the woman was able to call an ambulance, and her scalp was mostly intact. That’s when the clock started ticking.

The case report, published in the British Medical Association’s publication BMJ (warning: contains graphic images), said the injury was called a total scalp avulsion, a “rare and potentially life-threatening injury.”

The injury is so rare that there are very few scientific reports about how to reattach the scalp, and even fewer surgeons who could actually do it.

“Most of the larger departments of plastic and reconstructive surgery worldwide will have the necessary setup and equipment to perform the procedure,” according to the case report published Jan. 6. “However, only a handful of surgeons will have prior experience with this kind of injury.”

In a case like this, timing is everything. When paramedics arrived, they placed the scalp on ice, hoping to reduce the metabolism and keep the skin alive. The woman and her scalp were rushed to a trauma center, and surgeons immediately began stitching the pieces of skin back together, according to the case report.

The surgery is painstakingly difficult, surgeons said. Not only did they need to reattach the skin of the scalp back onto the woman’s head, but they also had to sew together the blood vessels that keep the skin and tissue alive.

Blood vessels can be as large as 2 centimeters or as small as 2 micrometers, smaller than a human hair, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The surgeons battled the clock, but after only five hours, the woman’s scalp was back on her head.

“We believe that this is one of the largest scalp avulsions to be replanted successfully,” surgeons said in the case report.

Six months later, the woman is starting to regain sensation on her scalp, and her hair is starting to grow back, something the surgeons did not expect.

“I am very delighted that I am not suffering from (hair loss), which I have been told is a well-known problem after a scalp avulsion,” the woman said in the case report. “My hair is slowly growing back which is helping me achieve the same appearance that I had prior to my accident.”

The surgeons hope this case will help provide the framework for future scalp avulsion surgeries and help those who have accidents regain their appearances.

“I believe it was more traumatising for the people around me and my husband would agree,” the woman said in the case report, adding she felt little pain. “It is slowly getting better week by week. This (continuous) progress gives me a lot of faith for the future.”

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