back to article Doctor amputates boy's arm using SMS instructions

A British surgeon has performed an arm amputation on a 16 year-old boy, using instructions sent to him by text message. arm_op Nott amputated the boy's arms using SMS instructions David Nott, a volunteer for the French medical charity Medicin Sans Frontierescame across the boy in the Congo, Africa whose arm went gangrenous …


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  1. Darryl
    Thumb Up

    Best in-article illustration ever

    A title is required, so I put my comment in the title

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    The author of this article should not be suprised

    The author of this article should not be surprised when the police raids his house and holds him for 9 hours. Definitive child abuse material. Just look at the picture. It describes how to abuse physically a child. "Hold a child down" and so on.

    Sigh... I wish we lived in a more sane society and not in this: Entertaining how all reg readers in the comments on that one flamed away at the aussie police and missed that the request was from the UK.

  3. alzain



  4. Alan Potter

    Predictive text?

    Type "Amputate" get "Costated". Try typing "Gangrenous" and get as far as "Hangse" before the phone gives up. Luckily, the phone recognises "arm". So the surgeon gets the instruction: "Costated Hangse arm". I hope they survived that.

    The recipient should consider themselves lucky that they hadn't turned up for a vasectomy. Although the phone recognises that word. That's a shame. I was hoping for some comedic opportunity there.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Chris Shewchuk

    Why on earth...

    ...was this done by text and not by call, where potentially dangerous ambiguities could quickly be sorted out?

    Seems like the doctor got lucky more than anything. His heart was in the right place and I'm glad things turned out, but in any other country folks would be calling for his head due to malpractice.

  7. g00p

    I read that..

    ..thinking SMS as in Systems Management Server...

    ..uninstallboysarms.msi ?

  8. Francis Vaughan

    Get it right.

    Egads, this story has been news for quite a while, and el Reg can't even get basics of the story right. The boy only had one arm removed, not both. The real story is that the amputation was a very complex and dangerious one, because the boy had very little non-gangenous tissue left. The procedure required that both the clavicle (collar bone) and scapula (shoulder blade) also be removed. This is heroic surgery. Yet the surgeon was the right guy at the right time, and was skilled enough to perform the procedure under much less than ideal circumstances, and the boy pulled through. Without, the boy would have died within a few days.

    The surgeon in question gives up 4 weeks a year of his time free for MSF (Doctors without borders.) Yet the idiot above can only make stupid remarks about profit.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Get it right.

    I have no idea how we managed to amputate a second arm. Story now updated, thanks for the catch.

  10. Kanhef
    Thumb Up

    As long as it works...

    It saved the kid's life (okay, losing both arms really sucks, but dying of gangrene is worse). Doesn't really matter how the doc learned to do it. If anything, he should get props for doing the surgery successfully on such limited instructions.

  11. Hywel Thomas


    Never understood this attitude. Better to try something and fail than just give up. The kid was dead without this intervention

    I remember that a bloke in the office, having been on some first aid course, was then (technically) prohibited from giving some paracetamol to a mate. Madness.

  12. Simon Neill

    @SMS not call

    "...was this done by text and not by call, where potentially dangerous ambiguities could quickly be sorted out?"

    Perhaps they didn't have enough credit?

  13. mr.K

    @Chris Shewchuk

    I am led to believe that medical language, an especially medical Latin, is a very precise language. It is a partially constructed language and its purpose is to leave very little room for interpretation. To top that it is used by people that are very particular about their work, border lining on anal, so they language won't degrade or change easily. Surgeons don't have the time to repeat messages or explain things. What may be a broken leg for us, they would have in their language described as a fracture on a specific place on a specific bone on a name side of the body. There are no "dangerous ambiguities" in their language. So I am led to believe at least, I do not know it myself so I have to trust those that do.

    So even though I understand your initial concern text messages in this case is just as accurate as a call. It is even better because then he can look at it while he is operating.

    Yes, he would be charged with malpractice back home. That is because there are better alternatives available here. If you are stuck in the middle of nowhere, you have a dieing kid and you are probably the best equipped and skilled guy around. Even though all you actually have is a pocketknife and a bottle of booze, you will do whatever it takes and hope for the best.

  14. Dave


    From other news reports the instructions were by SMS, as the signal was too poor to get a proper connection. The surgeon involved was operating in the back end of nowhere in an African Village. These sort of places are not known for mobile signals. Then again you could say the same for a lot of remote places in the UK

  15. graeme leggett Silver badge

    @Chris Shewchuck

    ?Why on earth...

    The surgeon received the instructions in a series of text messages, then took a day to consider before actually deciding to do the operation.

    (he was interviewed on the Today Programme BBC R4 Wednesday am iirc)

  16. John H Woods Silver badge

    Re: Why on earth...


    I believe these surgeons have worked extensively together. I am sure if a telephone call would have been more suitable then that is what they would have done.

  17. al

    Tone not right

    Not the dial tone.. the tone of the article. Given the options and amount of time the Dr. had, it's possibly not only the best but also a creative option. In all likelyhood, this Dr. is already trained and probably needed a specific clarification (should I clamp the artery first or let it spray?). In pre-SMS days, he/or another similarly qualified Dr. might have done it on pure guess-work. You've to dig deeper into situation and the choices he had before you look down on this act.

    Why he didn't call ? Probably cellphones don't have a good signal in that area. Probably he had only 2 cents left on his pre-paid and he couldn't have called. Or, maybe, he would have called if his question was not answered in the SMS reply.

    In all probability, the team from the other side just emailed (sorry, SMS'd) the standard steps. Would you criticize a doctor who browses to check the steps needed to perform a procedure beforehand ? It's the samething, only without graphics.. or ads.

  18. Ed
    Thumb Down


    I hate to say this, but I'm fed up of reading this story! It's been everywhere and has been around for days, and honestly isn't that exciting... The papers have been regurgitating this story since Tuesday 2nd (Daily Mail: )... Really it comes down to "Doctor asked friend for help using a text message and got a response"...

    The only reason it's been so widely reported is because it makes an amusing headline...

  19. pctechxp

    Worthy of the honours list

    I wonder if these folks will be appearing in the New Year's honours rather than some waste of space plop star like normal as they certainly deserve it.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Warning (v.small letters)

    This is an ongoing subscription service, we will send you a new medical procedure every day at a cost of 4.50 per procedure until you text stop to 84565545345

    Paris, she could hold me down in the kitchen any time.

  21. Horridbloke

    Bad reporting

    "The boy survived the operation and has since made a full recovery."

    Has his arm grown back?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    "TXT 'ARM OP' to 80008"

    Am I the only person who wanted that number to be 80085?

    Paris, because she has nice 80085 too

  23. Charles Manning

    @Chris Shewchuk

    SMSs get through when voice calls won't.

    In very marginal reception areas, eg. where I live, and perhaps the arse end of the Congo, it is easier to get a coherent text through than a voice call. SMSs either get through accurately or not at all and the system retries until the SMS gets through.

    A voice call could have gone something like:

    " [garbled] cut [garbled] artery"

    "Sorry did you say cut the artery or don't cut the artery?... and which one?"

    "[garbled]unless [garbled]"...

    SMSs would be far more likely to be accurate.

  24. Matt Eagles


    Got to say those Medicin sans frontieres are a brave bunch. Where armed armed peace keepers fear to tread, they show up with only gauze and confidance.

  25. luxl85
    Thumb Up


    Too surprise and brave

  26. JP Strauss


    "Paris, because she has nice 80085 too"


  27. Jove Bronze badge

    Opps ...

    wrong number.

  28. Andy Worth

    @Alan Potter

    You should get a better phone. Predictive text understands both words on both my phone and my girlfriends. Although it also understands LOL, WTF and ROFL........

    I can almost picture the entire conversation in txt speak between the two doctors.

  29. jake Silver badge

    @ElReg moderators

    Martin Lyne made a pretty standard comment (at least for this forum).

    I replied with hospital humor ... which most people find completely tasteless.

    His post was nuked. Mine wasn't.


  30. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: @ElReg moderators

    Because have you any idea how many comments we have to moderate in a day? One day I'm actually going to count them and then I'll let you know. Also there are several people who'll be doing comment duty and we can't get on our walkie-talkies and urgently consult over everything.


  31. Anonymous Coward

    You've got an arm off!

    "It's just a flesh wound"

  32. Daniel Wilkie

    @Sarah Bee

    Perhaps you should send each other SMS's instead? I mean if it's good enough for a doctor... :p

  33. jake Silver badge


    You don't know how many comments are made in a day? Rumor has it that computers are really good at keeping track of that kinda thing ... Prolly no need to count 'em manually. Have you RTFM? Might even make for an interesting stats page ...

    Personally, I wasn't offended by Martin's comment. I found it funny, in fact ... My point was more that his post should have been allowed long before mine was.

    Funny thing is mine was allowed, then hidden, then allowed again, and now it's gone again. That's the trouble with moderation ... different people have different opinions.

    If you're wondering, I don't care if any post of mine ever shows up. It's not like any post made here is earth shatteringly brilliant. I know I'm just killing time. For example, at the moment I have to wait for the new farrier to show up and can't leave the barn ... She's here, gotta go :-)

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