Amputation is the surgical removal of a limb or body part, such as an arm, leg, fingers, or toes. Amputation generally follows from an injury, illness, disease, infection, or surgery. Losing a limb or extremity can be very traumatic but there are millions of people living with the loss of a limb. Medical devices, prosthetics, and new technology can be used to help people who have undergone amputation.
Unfortunately for some amputees, the loss of their limb did not need to happen. A doctor's negligence or carelessness could have led to amputation. If negligent medical care caused an amputation or amputation injury, the injury victim may have a claim for damages.
Amputation of a Patient's Extremities
Amputation is the removal of a limb or extremity. There are a number of types of amputations, with the most common amputations being arm and leg. Amputations can occur at many parts of the limb, from a partial amputation to a full amputation of the limb. Types of amputations include:
- Foot amputation
- Ankle amputation
- Trans-tibial amputation
- Knee amputation
- Trans-femoral amputation
- Hip amputation
- Trans-pelvic amputation
- Partial finger amputation
- Wrist amputation
- Trans-radial amputation
- Elbow amputation
- Trans-humeral amputation
- Shoulder amputation
- Ear amputation
- Nose amputation
- Tongue amputation
- Eye amputation
- Breast amputation (mastectomy)
- Testicular amputation (castration)
Amputation generally involves a surgical procedure. As with other traumatic surgeries, treatment may begin with anesthetizing the patient and controlling blood loss. To prevent hemorrhage, the limb may be ligated to cut off or slow blood loss through the arteries and veins. The skin is cut, muscles transected, and bone is cut through. Rough edges of the cut bone may then be filed smooth, and muscle wrapped around the end to create a cuff, sewing the skin back together to create a stump.
Medical professionals involved in a surgical amputation may include:
- Surgical assistants
- Orthotic doctors
- Emergency room physicians
- Orthopedic surgeons
- Plastic surgeons
With removal of the limb, care still needs to be taken with the surgery and infection control to promote use of the stump, prevent further damage through the spread of infection, and reduce pain and nerve damage.
Rehabilitation After Amputation
Rehabilitation after amputation can greatly improve the patient's use of the remaining limb, adapt to a prosthetic, improve mobility, and help the patient adapt to such a significant change in body function and appearance. Rehabilitation and post-amputation care can involve any number of medical professionals, from physical therapists, to prosthetists, to specialist nurses. Rehabilitation treatments may include:
- Physical therapy
- Emotional support
- Pain management
- Use of mobility devices
- Improving would care
- Improving motor skills
- Fitting of a prosthesis or artificial limb
- Vocational counseling
- Nutritional counseling
- Family education
- Adapting the home environment
When Amputation is Required
There are a number of reasons for amputation, including trauma, injury, accident, or infection. Amputation may be required in an emergency procedure or it can come as a last result after other treatments are not successful.
Patients are often surprised to see how much of the limb will be amputated, which appears to be much greater than the area of damage. However, incisions are made with enough healthy tissue to cover and protect the amputation. Some areas of seemingly healthy tissue may be in an earlier stage of infection that may be amputated to prevent continuing spread of infection.
Amputation Related to Infection
Sepsis with peripheral necrosis can be caused by infections. The body's reaction to the infection can cause tissue damage and tissue death, or necrosis. Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone that can lead to bone death. Amputations may be required to remove dead tissue and remove the source of infection to keep the infection from spreading to the rest of the body.
Amputation Related to Vascular Disease
Vascular disease is an abnormal condition of the blood vessels. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can cause a build-up of plaque in the arterial walls, blocking blood flow to the limbs or extremities. Lack of blood flow can slow the healing process and allow infections to continue until the patient begins to suffer tissue damage.
Diabetes and Amputation
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is the leading cause of nontraumatic lower-limb amputations in the U.S. Diabetes can cause PAD, which often reduces blood flow to the legs and feet. Diabetes can also cause nerve damage, which prevents some patients from feeling pain in the affected areas. A wound, ulcer, or injury to the foot may not be noticed, leading to growth of the injury and infection. Tissue damage and tissue death may occur, leading to further infection and requiring amputation.
Amputation Related to Cancer
Amputation may be required to remove cancerous tissue or tumors from bones and muscles. Limb-salvage surgery may be an option to retain some or most of the limb's function but amputation may be required if removing all the cancer would require removal of nerves, arteries, and muscles required for the arm to function.
Traumatic amputations generally require emergency treatment after an injury or accident. In a combat situation, a traumatic amputation may be caused by a gunshot wound, landmine, or other explosives. In a civilian hospital, traumatic amputations generally involve work-related injuries or serious traffic accidents. Motorcycle accidents, car accidents, or industrial accidents account for the majority of traumatic amputations in the US. The causes of traumatic injuries to children requiring amputation can involve a lawnmower, farm machinery, or fireworks.
Risks of Amputation
As with most major surgeries, there are significant risks associated with amputation. The individual risks may be based on a number of factors, including the health of the patient, spread of infection, and operating conditions. Some risks associated with an amputation procedure include:
- Blood clots
- Poor wound healing
- Wound breakdown
- Phantom pain
- Anesthesia risks
Amputation After Medical Malpractice
Medical mistakes and negligence can be a cause of amputation. If a doctor's improper treatment, improper diagnosis, or misdiagnosis of a patient leads to amputation, the patient may have a claim for medical malpractice against the doctor and others involved in the patient's care.
One of the most common negligent causes of amputation involves infection. Failure to diagnose the early stages of infection or failing to identify the extent of the infection can lead to further growth and spread of the infection, including further tissue damage. Early and proper treatment of an infection can increase the chance of recovery. However, if the infection is not timely treated, amputation may be the only option.
Negligent Amputation Treatment
After it is determined that amputation is necessary, doctors can still make mistakes that worsen the outcome or further harm the patient. Failure to monitor the patient may be a form of malpractice if the patient's blood loss is not controlled or infections are not treated. In extreme cases, the doctor may amputate the wrong limb or cut off the limb of the wrong patient.
In 1995, Willie King was to undergo an amputation on the right leg below the knee for injuries related to diabetes. According to the doctor, by the time he realized he was operating on the wrong leg (left instead of the right), it was too late. The doctor was already cutting through muscle, tendons, and ligaments when a nurse told the doctor about the error. King later had to have the right leg amputated, losing both legs after the doctor's error.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim for Amputation Injuries
Losing a limb can be traumatic for a patient, especially if it was unnecessary. When a doctor, hospital, or healthcare professional commits medical malpractice that causes an amputation or causes the patient to suffer additional damage, the injury victim should be compensated. If you suspect something went wrong during your amputation treatment, contact the experienced medical malpractice lawyers Gilman & Bedigian.
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to fight for you to receive the compensation you and your family deserve. Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in compensation related to infection injuries, unnecessary amputations, and medical malpractice. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.