Tiny planes, trains, and automobiles have been Lee Spievack’s life for the past few years. After retirement, he’s been working full time at a hobby store in Cincinnati. Although he’s sold, put together, and worked on hundreds of models, one plane with a reverse engine would put Lee Spievack in the medical history books.
One day when working on a troubled plane, Lee stuck his finger through the prop, chopping off almost half an inch of his middle finger. He never saw the original tip of his finger again. In its place, and to the amazement of many, a new finger trip grew back.
On talking with his brother, Spievack refused a traditional skin graft and opted instead for some rather non-tradition treatment. He received a vial of powder from Dr. Stephen Badylak at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Spievack put the powder on his finger. He would clean the wound every day with soap and water and cover it with a Band-Aid. The only immediate effect the contents of the vial had were unwanted.
Spievack says, “I started smelling like a pig. It was offensive, and of course I was working, so I started putting on more Band-Aids to cover up the smell.”
The wound smelled like a pig because what was inside the vial was a pig, or at least part of one. The contents of the vial were matrix tissue extracted from a pigs bladder. The matrix tissue was picked and scrapped processed from the swine organ.
Dr. Badylak explains, “matrix is actually a collection of functional and structural molecules that are ideally suited to support growth and differentiation of our cells in every tissue in our body.”
It was a material that had never been tested on human wounds. Dr. Badylak said the powder would be of no harm, but he wasn’t sure exactly what the results of using the matrix tissue would be.
“Four weeks later, the finger had completely healed,” Lee Spievack recalls. “The fingernail had grown back and I’d say four months later I had my fingerprint back and everything else. This hand is 69-years-old up to (the fingertip.) That’s only two years old and the nail grows so fast it’s unbelievable. I have to cut this nail about every other day.”
A small inconvenience for a totally unexpected result. Dr. Badylak said he was totally surprised and thought it was a fluke that wouldn’t happen again. However, after repeating the results with another patient, Dr. Badylak knew he was on to something.
In the final part of “The Healing Power of Pigs,” hear how Lee Spievack’s fingertip might change the way thousands of amputees are treated and possibly healed.