Leeches help doctors reattach woman's face

(CBS) Gross, maybe, but being covered with lots of bloodsucking leeches proved lucky for one Swedish woman.

Swedish doctors used 358 leeches to help reattach a woman's face after a devastating dog bite left her without a chunk of her face stretching from her eye to her upper lip, the Swedish-English paper The Local reported.

The unnamed woman's family kept the detached lip, nose, and cheek parts on ice until she arrived at Skane University Hospital in Malmo, Sweden.

"The most important thing was to get blood into the torn off body part, which we managed to do within an hour of the start of the operation," the woman's doctor, Stina Klasson, told The Local. How'd the doctors manage this feat?

By turning to bloodsucking leeches - and lots of them - in fact, more leaches had to be flown in from the UK to assist with the procedure once the hospital ran out.

The procedure lasted 14 hours, and her doctors called the operation a success, but said the woman might need future reconstructive surgery.

"The results appear to be good," said Larsson. "Her whole nose has survived. The patient can breathe, eat, and talk."

Leeches for medicine - what is this, the Civil War?

It's more common than one might think. Leeches are still used throughout the world - in fact, medicinal leeches were formally approved for sale by the FDA in 2004.

Known as hirudotherapy, leech therapy exploits the bloodsucking properties of these slimy creatures in order to reestablish blood flow between detached body parts. The leeches work by sucking away the pooled blood from the extremity, and by also secreting saliva with clot-dissolving properties, which facilitate blood flow.

The leeches' saliva also boasts a numbing anesthetic and an antibiotic, which also reduce infection risk, Dr. Mark E. Nelson, professor of neuroscience at the University of Illinois, said on his website.

Some sites even tout hirudotherapy for helping fight heart disease, high blood pressure, and unsightly varicose veins. Some even recommend preventively using leeches three times a week.

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