According to one study, about 185,000 amputations happen annually across the U.S., nearly 70% resulting from conditions like diabetes and vascular disease. The severity of the causes behind the remaining 30% of amputations can range from relatively minor, like the removal of a single fingertip, to severe, like the loss of multiple limbs.
The results of these amputations also vary. Some amputees can recover some physical function with the help of a prosthetic device, whereas others suffer severe physical and emotional trauma.
What Is the Structure of Your Body?
Your body’s bones consist of a mineral lattice formed by bone cells using calcium and phosphorus and therefore have a hard, rigid texture. Cartilage, in contrast, is formed from a protein called collagen, which, despite forming a tough structure, remains somewhat pliable.
With that said, your ears and nose — two parts of your body that are relatively soft and movable — and your spinal discs each form their structures from cartilage.
Muscles sit over your bones, flexing and extending when appropriate to give your body the strength it needs to move about. Tendons are tough bands that grow from the ends of muscles and into the bones to anchor those muscles. Ligaments hold your bones together, guiding their movements at the joints.
Blood vessels circulate oxygen and nutrients to your cells while carrying away waste products. Arteries deliver oxygenated blood from your heart to your body, while veins carry oxygen-depleted blood and carbon dioxide to your lungs. There, the blood cells drop off the waste, which you then exhale, and pick up the oxygen you inhale.
Lastly, nerves carry control signals to your muscles and sensory signals from nerve endings in your skin. Some control signals happen voluntarily, such as when you move your fingers to type. Other control signals are involuntary: Your sweat glands, for instance, automatically secrete sweat when your internal temperature rises.
Types of Amputation Injuries
Amputation injuries occur in two forms:
A surgical amputation happens when doctors surgically remove an injured body part, often due to a severe injury or disease. The goal of a surgical amputation is to remove severely damaged tissue so it does not die and cause gangrene, a type of infection that develops when dead flesh decays and releases toxins into your bloodstream. Without treatment, gangrene will kill you.
To perform a surgical amputation, your doctor will determine where the extent of the damaged tissue ends, and your healthy tissue resumes. They use that information to plan the amputation so as to remove all the damaged tissue while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible.
The doctor will typically take some healthy tissue, called a margin, away with the amputated limb to ensure they remove all the damaged tissue. They may also plan the amputation at a joint in a process called disarticulation, which leaves a stump with different characteristics than an amputation that cuts through a bone.
During the surgery, the doctor will seal all the blood vessels and nerves leading to the injured body part, but they must exercise care. They want to leave a stump with a good blood supply and nerves that can help control a prosthesis. But even with a viable stump, a prosthesis will not replace all the functions that your original body part once performed.
Traumatic amputation happens when the forces involved in your accident pull or sever your limb from your body. In some cases, doctors can reattach the part in a surgical process called replantation. Still, the viability of such a procedure depends on the condition of the stump left behind and the condition of the amputated body part.
Doctors might not be able to replant a body part if:
- Its ends are contaminated with dirt, chemicals, or microorganisms
- It is mangled or burned during your accident
- Pieces of its bone or soft tissue are missing
- It is deprived of its blood supply for too long
Doctors will also need to make a cost-benefit analysis with the patient to decide whether the time, effort, and expense justify replantation surgery. For example, a doctor might point out that losing a toe, despite leaving you with a limp and mobility issues, may be the wiser choice over replantation, which can be expensive and may not succeed.
What Causes Amputation Injuries?
Amputations can result from many types of injuries and conditions, the most common of which is vascular damage. When the body’s blood vessels sustain heavy damage, they may require more repair than the doctor can reasonably perform before the body part dies from a lack of blood.
For example, if you are attacked by a dog while on someone else’s property, your injuries might include torn and severed blood vessels that a doctor cannot repair. Without re-establishing the blood supply as soon as possible, the body part mauled by the dog will die.
Another reason for amputations is a crushing injury, which can shatter a limb’s bones. A doctor cannot reliably reconstruct the bone when bone fragments are missing, too small, or too damaged. Thus, if a press crushes your hand in a workplace accident, extensive bone damage might lead a doctor to recommend an amputation.
What Types of Complications Can Result From Amputations?
Almost all amputees suffer from side effects and complications from their amputation, phantom limb pain being the most likely.
As many as 80% of amputees experience painful sensations that appear to originate in the location of the missing body part. These feelings occur because the brain takes time to update its body map after an amputation. Until such remapping occurs, the brain might misinterpret sensations from other parts of the body.
Another common amputation complication is depression. At least 30% of amputees suffer depression as they grieve the loss of their limb and experience sadness and fear about facing a future without some of their original body parts.
How Can You Get Compensation for an Amputation Injury?
You can pursue compensation for amputations that result from (or must take place due to) the actions of others. If you prove you were injured by someone else’s intentional or negligent act, you can seek compensation for your medical bills, lost income, diminished future earning capacity, and pain and suffering.
By definition, an amputation leaves you disfigured with permanent disabilities. Do not hesitate to contact our experienced lawyers from Attorneys of Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers to discuss your amputation injury and the financial compensation you may seek under Illinois law, call us at (312) 929-2884.