Surgeon replaces man’s missing thumb with big toe after cattle yard run-in

It took five hours to reach Perth.

A 20-year-old cattle station worker is recovering in hospital after a surgeon removed his big toe and attached it to his hand to replace the thumb he lost on the job.

While working on Sophie Downs Station in the Kimberleys, Zac Mitchell got into an altercation with one of the cattle.

Speaking to ABC News, Zac says: ‘One cleaned me up and kicked my hand up against the rail and ripped my thumb off. My thumb was still hanging on the rail there when I got up off the ground.’

Zac said it didn’t take long to realise what had happened, so he snatched up his thumb and ‘put it in an Esky with a few beers’.

The station was an agonising 150km from nearby Halls Creek, the closest town, where Zac was picked up by the Royal Flying Doctor Service and flown to Perth.

Halls Creek
The accident happened 150km from Halls Creek, and it took another 5 hours to reach Perth. (Credit: Google Maps)

But his saga does not end there.

Doctors tried twice to re-attach his thumb twice without any luck so Zac was flown to Sydney to see a hand specialist.

It was there that Dr Sean Nicklin suggested removing Zac’s big toe, and stitching it onto his hand in place of his missing thumb.

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You can connect the nerves and get good sensation, you can get the tendons, you can get the movement. And although it’s a bit big, it actually looks more like a thumb than other things that we might do,’ he explains to ABC News.

‘So you just know that it’s going to be the best replacement for a thumb.’


Dr Nicklin said that he’s impressed by Zac’s attitude to the whole ordeal.

‘He’s really taken it all in his stride, he’s coped with a pretty catastrophic injury incredibly well.’

After a few more months of healing, Zac will be able to get back to work and back to his hobby – bull-riding.

‘Luckily it was my free hand, not my holding-on hand,’ he laughs.

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