Life-Saving Amputation Surgery Performed by Text Message

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A British doctor working in the Congo has saved the life of a teen by amputating his arm following instructions that were texted to him by a colleague back in the UK.

Doctor David Nott, who was working in Rutshuru, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, came across the 16-year-old boy whose arm had been ripped off – either by a hippo while fishing or by cross-fire in which he’d been caught – Dr. Nott heard varying stories. Without a surgical amputation of the remains, the boy would surely die.

But because of the nature of the injury, the amputation required a complicated surgery which Nott – a vascular surgeon – himself had not performed. In fact, the surgery is only performed about ten times a year in the UK. However, Dr. Nott’s colleague back in England, Professor Meirion Thomas, from London’s Royal Marsden Hospital, had performed the surgery.


And so Nott contacted Thomas, and Thomas text messaged step-by-step instructions for Nott to perform the rare and complicated procedure, which included removing the collar bone and shoulder blade.

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Life-Saving Amputation Surgery Performed by Text Message

“I texted him and he texted back step by step instructions on how to do it,” explained Dr. Nott, adding that “Even then I had to think long and hard about whether it was right to leave a young boy with only one arm in the middle of this fighting. But in the end he would have died without it so I took a deep breath and followed the instructions to the letter.”

Of the procedure itself, Nott said “I knew exactly what my colleague meant because we have operated together many times.”

Nott regularly volunteers with the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Medicine without Borders), but attributes his being in the right place at the right time for his young patient to luck. “I don’t think there’s more than two or three surgeons in the UK who can do this. It was just luck that I was there and could do it. I don’t think that someone that wasn’t a vascular surgeon would have been able to deal with the large blood vessels involved. That is why I volunteer myself so often, I love being able to save someone’s life.”

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Life-Saving Amputation Surgery Performed by Text Message

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2 Replies to “Life-Saving Amputation Surgery Performed by Text Message”

  1. Medecins Sans Frontieres means Doctors Without Borders, not Medicine without Borders. But a fantastic story!

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