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Maggots stave off surgery for Tucson woman

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 4:46 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It’s the spooky season for creepy crawlies, but maggots? Tucson Medical Center recently used them to help keep a patient from having surgery. It’s a method that could be used more.

“She had wounds on both sides of both ankles, very severe wounds, and she had several medical conditions that make her immunocompromised,” said Dr. Erika Huston, a podiatrist on-call at TMC.

Dr. Huston and nurse practitioner, Ashlee Garcia, treated a woman who had infections in her leg wounds, and actually came in with live maggots on one of them, giving the medical team an idea.

“My original plan was to take her to surgery to clean out and remove the maggots and all the dead tissue,” said Dr. Huston. “(I) took the dressing off the next day, and the maggots had cleaned the wound significantly…so I said, ‘let’s see if we can do that while she’s here.’”

“With the maggots, they’re very selective. So, they only eat the dead tissue and the wound essentially stays about the same size,” said Ashlee Garcia, wound care nurse practitioner.

By ordering and carefully putting medical maggots, meaning maggots raised in a sterile environment, on the patient, the patients injuries didn’t grow or get worse, they got better.

“They often don’t need to go to surgery because the maggots have already done my job for me,” said Dr. Huston.

The maggots are carefully placed and left for about two days, during which time they eat the dead tissue. It’s a practice that is well known, but not used too frequently. It had been about 15 years since TMC had ordered and used maggots on a patient. The largest hurdle, often, is patient hesitancy to use the maggots on their wounds.

“I would say at minimum (they) double in size over the 48 hours” said Garcia. “She was very open to it, she didn’t mind so much, she didn’t want to watch the process, but she was really okay with the concept.”

The patient had an antibiotic IV to help with infections, and the medical team urges people to NOT try and treat wounds with maggots themselves.

“The free-range maggots, as we call, them are not sterile, you do not want to stick your foot out and hope a fly lands on it…it’s not sanitary,” said Dr. Huston.

The patient has since been discharged and is finishing the last bit of recovery at home. It’s a process this team hopes they may be able to use more, giving patients a quicker recovery time and avoiding surgery.

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