78ºF

Ancient creatures are modern medical marvels

How bloodsucking leeches saved woman's nose

photo

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – Dating back to the Jurassic period, leeches have crawled their way across the Earth, wriggling their way into Egyptian medical practices an estimated 3,500 years ago.

"They're excellent little animals, amazing little animals," said Coral Gables plastic surgeon Jacob Freiman. 

Anyone who's ever come across a leech would be hard pressed to appreciate the benefit of the creepy bloodsuckers.

"The FDA considers them a medical device, probably the only animal considered a medical device," Freiman said.

Boyton Beach beauty blogger Shari Manchon said leeches became lifesavers when she developed complications following facial plastic surgery.

"I did a lot of research before I picked a plastic surgeon in California and I never expected this," Manchon said.

Not long after the procedure, the tip of Manchon's nose became ice cold.

"And I looked in the mirror and it kind of turned a little blue," Manchon said.

When the blue turned to black, she became alarmed.

"It was going into necrosis, and when you get there, the tissue and everything starts to die off," she said.

"In the case of the nose, if the tip dies, you have a real problem," Freiman said. "You have exposed cartilage and other issues."

During plastic surgery, small veins in the face or other areas of the body can become compressed, causing a lack of blood flow that can ultimately cause permanent damage.

"That's where leeches come in," Freiman said.  

With three sets of razor sharp teeth, leeches latch onto the wound and start to suck, which gets blood flowing.

"You don't feel it because they have an anesthetic in them. They also have an anticoagulant so you don't stop bleeding," Freiman said.

When leeches were attached to the tip of Manchon's nose, the wound started bleeding immediately and didn't stop for 11 hours as the circulation slowly returned.

"And that dark purple nose was red," she said. "Without a doubt, the leeches saved the tip."

Capturing the way leeches wriggle along on their tiny suction cups could one day help scientists design small, exploratory robotics.


About the Authors: