NJ Med School Professor Recounts Tale of Reattaching Girl’s Limbs in Former Soviet Union

NJ Spotlight News | August 10, 2015 | Health Care
A Rutgers New Jersey Medical School professor reattached a young girl's lower limbs 32 years ago.

By Michael Hill

Thirty-two years later, Dr. Ramazi Datiashvili is still modest about the microsurgery to reattach the lower limbs of Rasa Praschavite and the battle to avoid killing her on the operating table.

“Reattachment was one of the goals of my surgery, but saving a patients life was the priority,” said Dr. Datiashvili, who is a surgery professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

June 1983. Rasa’s dad didn’t see her playing in the tall grass he was cutting in Lithuania, a republic of the old Soviet Union. The machine severed her legs above the ankles. Five hundred miles away in Moscow, a request to reattach the limbs went to Dr. Datiashvili who had just performed 12 hours of surgery.

Medics rushed Rasa to a commercial flight but had to turn around, because in the panic someone left her amputated legs on the kitchen table. Hours had passed by the time the jet delivered Rasa and the limbs kept cold with frozen fish to Moscow.

The young, ambitious doctor says he had to overcome numerous obstacles just to get in the operating room — among them no sleep. His own colleagues refusing to give the girl anesthesia. His own adult hospital refusing to allow him to perform the surgery there, having to find a children’s hospital across town and the staff to assist, and finally waiting for more than an hour and a half for delivery of the microscope to perform the microsurgery.

He began the surgery exhausted, putting his reputation and career on the line. He put his skills and knowledge to overcoming a moment of doubt.

“When I saw the amputated legs, they were over frozen, they were firm like wood and I was kind of, momentarily thinking, should I do it or not?

The doctor juggled reconnecting Rasa’s arteries and veins while giving her a blood transfusion. His biggest battle: making sure the toxins that settled into the dismembered parts because of lack of oxygen and blood flow didn’t infect Rasa’s body.

“You can successfully reattach limbs but kill the patient,” he said.

Nine hours later, the limbs were reattached. Three years later, more surgery to lengthen her right leg. Today the doctor says that Rasa lives with minimal limitations in Germany with a husband she met dancing.

“What could be more rewarding for me as a surgeon?” Dr. Datiashvili asked.

Until this NJTV News interview, Dr. Datiashvili says he had not been asked and he had not pondered why he was so committed to Rasa’s operation.

“Humanism,” he said.

The microsurgery brought fame and envy to the Russian doctor.

“I had a kind of difficult time,” he said.

He immigrated to America in the early ’90s for family reasons. He teaches at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Surgery of course, but rarely mentions how he overcame so many barriers to give a little girl back her limbs.

“The ability of human being is very, very unlimited,” he said.

His feat — and her feet — seem to prove it.