I’m astounded, boggled and vomitoriously grossed out by my sheer accidental discovery of the extremely rare surgical procedure known as hemicorporectomy.
As the word itself suggests, a hemicorporectomy involves the removal of essentially half the body.
A hemicorporectomy usually happens because of a) a severe traumatic injury or b) horrible cancer of the lower spine or pelvic girdle that doctors want to keep from spreading. It’s usually done in two stages. The first stage reroutes the excretory system to a colostomy bag. The second stage is the amputation.
Needless to say, this is a radical surgery with a high fatality rate, done only in the extremest cases. If a person does survive, he or she has many special considerations. For example, he or she has just lost half of his/her body weight, including circulatory system. He or she must be monitored to make sure that the heart is adequately adjusting a new blood pressure set point. Also loss of the colon can lead to loss of electrolytes.
Survivors of hemicorporectomy face many mobility challenges. Obviously, without legs, they pretty much use wheelchairs or stay in bed. Furthermore, they have a smaller surface area on which to bear weight for sitting or lying. Pressure sores may result. Conventional prostheses are like bucket sockets, to put it crudely, with prostheses made from a non-breathing polymer to cap the lower torso. The polymer scrapes against the survivors’ skin, injuring them. Additionally, because the prostheses don’t breathe, the survivors cannot dissipate perspiration out of the area covered by the prostheses — a large area of their remaining body parts! — so they can’t regulate their body temperatures. This article shows some breathable, load-bearing alternatives to bucket prostheses. Check out the pictures, which give you an idea of what a clothed hemicorporectomy survivor’s lower body looks like. I’m still not clear on what’s keeping their remaining organs from falling out. Their diaphragms must be working hard, I guess.
So today I learned that people can survive without portions of their spine. That just amazes me. I always assumed that people needed their heads, necks and entire cores [body minus limbs] to survive. Now that I think about it, though, the entire core is not absolutely necessary. Ventilators can help to work the lungs, dialysis machines the kidneys, feeding tubes the digestive system, colostomy systems the excretory system. I suppose it is theoretically possible to move those bodily functions to machines so that the core consists of heart, [reduced] lungs, [reduced] digestive, [reduced] excretory, head and brain. That’s mind-blowing.
Apparently people can live without pretty much all of their bodies!!! Just think about it… People have been known to live without the following, where “without” means the absence thereof, not the non-working presence of… all limbs, hair, sweat glands, larynx, tonsils, 2 eyes, nose, 2 ears, 1 lung, teeth, tongue, upper palette, lower jaw, 1 or 2 kidneys, reproductive systems, 2 breasts, large tracts of intestine, spleen and other organs that I’m probably missing. People have also been known to live with portions of their brains removed. I want to say that I read about someone who was running successfully on one hemisphere after a radical operation designed to reduce seizures, but I don’t have a source for that.