When it comes to rare and risky medical procedures, they don’t generally threaten the lives of medical personnel. But such was the case in January 2023 when doctors in Ukraine undertook the nerve-wracking process of removing a live ordnance from the chest of a wounded soldier. Located beneath his heart, this VOG grenade required careful handling and plenty of finesse. So, officials called in the heavy guns, Andrii Verba, one of the nation’s foremost surgeons.

Here’s what you need to know about this incredible procedure and why it deserves a spot in the medical history books.

An Explosive Situation

Dealing with a live grenade is not for the faint of heart. But Dr. Verba brought a much-needed and steady hand to the operation. Accompanying him were two sappers (a.k.a. combat engineers) tasked with ensuring everything went off without a hitch (or a bang). Of course, the operation wasn’t without its challenges.

Dr. Verba couldn’t rely on standard operating procedures like electrocoagulation. This technique is used to manage and control bleeding during surgery. It relies on an electric current to cauterize blood vessels. But the procedure gives off electric currents that officials worried might detonate the grenade.

Remarkably, the grenade remained live throughout the procedure. Anton Gerashchenko, the internal affairs ministerial adviser of Ukraine, explains, “The grenade did not explode, but remained explosive. There have never been such operations in the practice of our doctors.” But that doesn’t mean removing live explosives from human bodies is entirely unprecedented.

An Operation With Some History

Although Dr. Verba’s adrenaline-spiking operation marked a first in his nation, precedents have already been set in other parts of the world. A survey by Military Medicine points to 36 cases of unexploded ordnance removed from bodies between World War II and 1999. Of these cases, four of the patients passed away before surgery. But the 32 other medical interventions all yielded success.

Afghanistan stands out when it comes to risky procedures like this, too. They include a 2006 explosives extraction from Private Channing Moss’s abdomen. And there’s also the case of a 23-year-old pregnant woman with suspected explosive ammunition removed from her head. Fortunately, doctors conducting her operation discovered a non-explosive bullet instead.

Nevertheless, her physicians took the same precautions as those treating the man in Ukraine. This meant avoiding electrocoagulation and bringing in extra medical help to ensure everyone’s safety. Although such practices are far from common, the Joint Trauma System of the U.S. Department of Defense has even developed official guidance moving forward in such situations. Of course, successful ordnance removal requires a hefty dose of luck — something the Ukrainian soldier had in droves. His surgery represents the culmination of medical expertise coupled with a smile from the universe.

By Engrid Barnett, contributor for Ripleys.com


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