Trading a thumb for a toe


HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – The latest on a Connecticut man who made headlines, when doctors replaced his thumb with his own big toe.

Six months ago, doctors at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center replaced Phil Colello’s left thumb with his left toe after an accident severed the hairdresser’s thumb. Today, the re-attached blood vessels and nerves, have the toe-turned- thumb, functioning.

“I would say on a scale from one to 10, it’s probably about an 8,” said plastic surgeon, Dr. Sam Buonocore, who specializes in hand and microsurgery. He raised his thumb and pointed, “There is a little bit less motion in his I-P joint, that’s this guy right here than I would like but we can offer him something to enhance that.”

“I taught a few [haircutting] classes and they went well, “said a happy Phil Colello, “I’m able to work around the house and the yard.” Still, pain in Phil’s left foot, the foot now missing a big toe, has him sitting more than standing.

“But that continues to improve, said Dr. Buonocore, “It’s lower extremity.  Feet take longer to heal than the rest of our body.”

Therapy keeps Phil on track.  Colello said, “The sensation is coming back, little by little.” But not enough, so Phil must be vigilant about avoiding accidents. He recounted, “I was making chili and I started including my thumb in it and so no I keep my eyes on it, real good.”

Occupational Therapist Timothea Kimball recalled, “He has a very functional hand and I believe it all comes from Phil’s attitude. He came in here, this is my new thumb and I need to use it and I’m ready to use it.” Not a bad looking thumb at that, either.

“I was lucky.  I had a pretty decent looking toe, “said Colello laughingly, “it looks more like a thumb than a toe.”

Dr. Buonocore said his foot will likely improve without the need for more surgery. Meantime, Colello is not yet ready to decide, on whether he wants to undergo another procedure, so his thumb is more flexible.

That’s because it’s not keeping him from doing what he wants to do.

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