Microsurgery -- the fine art of reconnecting blood vessels, nerves and tissue -- made strides in the 1970s, but wasn't common until the 1980s. In that time, the odds of success for limb reattachment surgery have increased.
But if you or (ideally) someone else in your presence loses a limb, what should be done? Start by calling 911. The injured party is going to need immediate medical attention, and lots of it. But as far as reattachment goes, the sooner specialists can be notified to prepare for such an emergency procedure, the better the odds the procedure will be successful.
Next, stop the bleeding by using pressure with your hands, a re-purposed piece of clothing or a tourniquet above the wound. Once the patient is stabilized, secure the severed limb or finger. Gather up all the "parts" to give the surgeons the most possible tissue to work with. Put the limb inside a plastic bag, without ice or water inside the bag. This is very important, as direct contact with ice can result in frostbite, and water contact makes limb reattachment more difficult [source: BBC]. Seal the bag and place it in a larger bag or bucket containing ice if possible.
Hopefully while this is happening, the surgical team members are clearing their schedules, because limb-reattachment surgery can take an entire day. When they see the wound and the severed limb, they'll be hoping to see a clean cut, making the task ahead of them that much easier.
If you lose a limb, what can you do to increase the odds that will be successfully reattached? We'll discuss the role the patient plays, as well as how the surgery is performed, next.