UCI Doctors Re-Attach Teen’s Arm After Near Amputation in Laguna Beach Cliff Fall

A 15-year-old boy who nearly lost life and limb after falling down a Laguna Beach cliff on July 18 was discharged from UC Irvine Medical Center Thursday with his right arm reattached after it was almost completely amputated.

“This was among one of the worst injuries I’ve seen,” said Dr. Sebastian Schubl, a trauma surgeon at UCI Medical.

It took seven surgeries, some lasting as long as 13 hours, but doctors were able to successfully reattach arteries, veins, muscles, nerves and bones in the arm, Schubl said.

When the teen first arrived at the hospital, doctors were concerned that he might not make it through the night. Once he got to the operating room for a seven-hour emergency surgery, however, he had stabilized to the point where surgeons could focus on saving his arm, Schubl said.

UCI Medical staff credited first responders from the Orange County Fire Authority who were on the scene for applying a turnekit that stopped blood flow to the injured arm.

“This… definitely assisted [us] in the patient’s care and may have saved his life to avoid blood loss,” said UCI orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. James Learned.

UCI staff will not make any predictions about the boy’s further steps in recovery per the wishes of his family, but doctors are optimistic that he will eventually be able to use his right hand again.

“We have high hopes he will continue to recover the function of his hand as he progresses with physical therapy over the course of the coming months,” Schubl said.

Doctors say he is lucky to even have his arm still attached after it initially looked as though it had been lost in the fall off the beachside cliffs.

“A lot of people can’t have their limbs salvaged because the damage is too much,” said Dr. Michael Lewaka, trauma director at UCI Medical. “So it’s fortunate that this one was.”

Having much the same team on each surgery was crucial, Schubl said.

“That got us the outcome, the same core group of surgeons were there for every one of his operations, so we were very familiar with the injury and the patient,” Schubl said.

Perhaps the most critical part of the patient’s success was owed to his own strength, Schubl said.

“This is one of the strongest, most impressive young men I’ve ever met,” Schubl said. “He is an unbelievable kid, and I think his family support, his own strength of character, had more to do with how well he’s done than anything else. He is an unbelievable man, and that’s going to help him have a great outcome.”

The teen’s parents were “at his bedside every day for 22 days straight,” Schubl said.

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