Dr. Bobby Chhabra is a surgeon and professor of orthopaedic and plastic surgery at the University of Virginia. Over his over twenty years practicing medicine, Dr. Bobby Chhabra has built expertise in congenital hand surgeries such as digit pollicization.
Digit pollicization is a method of replacing a patient’s non-functioning thumb with a digit with higher functionality. The procedure represents the refined product of over 100 years of surgical practice. While many candidates for digit pollicization have congenital conditions resulting in malformed or absent thumbs, a need for the surgery may also arise from trauma.
Digit pollicization surgery involves moving another digit, most often the index finger, and rotating and attaching it to the muscles and tendons required for it to function as a thumb. This is a complicated and delicate procedure, but the result is a thumb that is aesthetically and functionally quite similar to a regular thumb.
However, the success of digit pollicization is not only contingent upon a successful surgery; there is also a need for the patient’s brain to recognize the new thumb as a thumb. This means that it is best for an individual to undergo the surgery between one and two years of age to take advantage of the young brain’s neuroplasticity and ensure that the brain maps the new thumb as a thumb rather than a finger.