Doctor uses toe to replace teen’s thumb

16-year-old Gabriel Rock is back to playing golf and woodworking with his rebuilt hand.

It was September 2015 when a night with friends ended in an explosion that left Gabriel Rock without much of his left hand.

“He lost his thumb, index finger and long finger; there was a big gaping hole in his palm,” said Amit Gupta, M.D., hand surgeon with Louisville Arm & Hand.

Dr. Gupta remembers Gabriel well. From the moment the teenager arrived at Norton Children’s Hospital, he began working on Gabriel’s hand. It was one of the worst injuries he’d seen.

It started with what Gabriel thought was a smoke bomb.

“A friend of mine brought over a little device … and he handed it to me and I went to go set it off, but it wasn’t a smoke bomb. It was a homemade improvised explosive device his brother had made,” Gabriel said.

Norton Louisville Arm & Hand

Surgeons at Norton Louisville Arm & Hand are specially trained and experienced treating injuries and other conditions in children.

Learn more

More than half his hand

The blast took more than half of his hand. It took half a dozen surgeries — from skin grafts to a six-hour transplant of his second toe to his hand — to regain function.

“We made a thumb using his toe; we connected the arteries, veins and tendons on both sides,” Dr. Gupta said. “It doesn’t look like a toe — it looks like a thumb, and you can’t tell he is missing a toe, unless you take the time to count his toes.”

Louisville Arm & Hand is the only practice in Louisville that performs this type of surgery on children.

Today, at age 16, Gabriel’s bones and tendons have healed. After vigorous therapy, his strength continues to increase.

Back to golf and woodworking

“I’m just starting to get sensation back,” he said.

Gabriel also is getting back to some of the activities he enjoys most, like golf and woodworking.

Gabriel proudly showed off his latest — a walking stick.

“It’s not finished yet,” Gabriel said.

It’s a project he may not have been able to complete without the use of both of his hands.

Toe-hand thumb replacement
Gabrielle’s hand, with a toe attached as a new thumb