Man or machine? An experimental study of prehospital emergency amputation

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Prehospital emergency amputation is a rare procedure, which may be necessary to free a time-critical patient from entrapment. This study aimed to evaluate four techniques of cadaveric lower limb prehospital emergency amputation.


A guillotine amputation of the distal femur was undertaken in fresh frozen self-donated cadavers. A prehospital doctor conducted a surgical amputation with Gigli saw or hacksaw for bone cuts and firefighters carried out the procedure using the reciprocating saw and Holmatro device. The primary outcome measures were time to full amputation and the number of attempts required. The secondary outcomes were observed quality of skin cut, soft tissue cut and CT assessment of the proximal bone. Observers also noted the potential risks to the rescuer or patient during the procedure.


All techniques completed amputation within 91 s. The reciprocating saw was the quickest technique (22 s) but there was significant blood spattering and continuation of the cut to the surface under the leg. The Holmatro device took less than a minute. The quality of the proximal femur was acceptable with all methods, but 5 cm more proximal soft tissue damage was made by the Holmatro device.


Emergency prehospital guillotine amputation of the distal femur can effectively be performed using scalpel and paramedic shears with bone cuts by the Gigli saw or fire service hacksaw. The reciprocating saw could be used to cut bone if no other equipment was available but carried some risks. The Holmatro cutting device is a viable option for a life-threatening entrapment where only firefighters can safely access the patient, but would not be a recommended primary technique for medical staff.

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