Doctor regrows man’s missing fingertip using pig bladder

The Sideshow

An errant horse bite, a pig’s bladder and one man’s fingertip have resulted in what some are calling a minor medical miracle with great potential to help others.

CBS Miami reports that 33-year-old Paul Halpern was feeding his prized horse when it suddenly bit off the tip of his index finger.

“One of the guys that worked with me reached his hand in the horse’s mouth, took the fingertip out, and I jumped in the car, grabbed the rest of my finger, wondering what we should do,” Halpern told the station.

His insurance company wanted Halpern to have the rest of his finger amputated. Instead, he visited Dr. Eugenio Rodriguez at the Deerfield Beach Outpatient Surgical Center, who said he had a plan to regrow the missing portion of the finger.

“He really wanted to have his finger healed, and fast,” Dr. Rodriguez told the station. “It’s very interesting to see a patient heal. That’s my passion, wound healing. It is fascinating to have the new results.”

Dr. Rodriguez used pig bladder tissue to build a template mold of the missing fingertip. He attached the template to the wound entry point at the end of the remaining finger.

Over the course of several weeks, Halpern’s flesh and bone began to regrow into the template, with even the fingernail returning.

"I couldn't notice at the time [that it was growing], but once everything had healed and the fingernail grew back, which is quite miraculous, and the skin healed over, then you really notice,” Halpern told NBC Miami. "I consider myself very lucky."

The actual procedure, called a xenograft, or xenotransplantation, causes the cells of one species to transplant with the cells of another species. Each day, Halpern would apply a new layer of pig bladder tissue and cover it with a saline sheet. Dr. Rodriguez said the pig bladder tissue stimulates stem cells, causing the new human tissue and bone to grow.

Although rare, the procedure is not unheard of. And technically, it’s about 100 years old, having first been developed in the early 20th century. But it also comes with potential risks, including infection and the potential for disease transferring from one set of tissue to another.

Halpern said it was pain-free, allowing him to avoid surgery or other costly approaches to physical recovery. Dr. Rodriguez says he has been using the pig bladder powder to treat other physical wounds and hopes the treatment becomes more mainstream.

“I’m really grateful. I think it’s fantastic,” Halpern said. “ I think in the future there’s going to be other uses for it, but it wasn’t a life-threatening injury to me, it was something that was an accident.”