A group of Colombian doctors recently defused an explosive medical situation by removing a live grenade lodged in a young soldier's face.
Surgeons at Bogota's Central Military Hospital risked life and limb to extract a cellphone-sized M-40 grenade from the right cheek of 20-year-old soldier Leandro Luna. The procedure required doctors to perform one of the scariest, and most bizarre operations in medical history.
“The cuts and pressure we had to apply to remove the artifact had to be very precise,” chief surgeon William Sanchez told Colombian Daily El Tiempo. “It was a decisive five minutes where any small mistake would've been fatal.”
Had the grenade detonated, it would have killed private Luna along with the five medics operating on him. Last week, the Colombian military posted the video of doctor Sanchez's breathtaking surgery. (Warning: Video contains graphic images that some viewers may find upsetting).
Private Luna arrived at Bogota's military hospital in the wee hours of Sunday, June 5 after surviving an eight-hour ambulance ride from the Colombian countryside.
According to the military, Luna was injured when a fellow soldier accidentally fired a grenade launcher during a patrol of Colombia's eastern plains. The grenade hit Luna on the right side of his face, knocking out some of his teeth and lodging into his crushed cheek bones. But the grenade didn't explode, apparently because M-40s are designed to detonate about 45 feet from their launch site.
The accident was just the beginning of Luna's bizarre ordeal. The army couldn't airlift him out of the area out of fear that the movement of the helicopter would detonate the grenade in mid-flight. Hospitals in the immediate area did not have adequate equipment to perform the risky operation, so Luna had to be packed into a vehicle for a long, white-knuckle drive to Colombia’s capital city.
When Luna arrived in Bogota, doctors immediately set up an improvised “operating room” in the hospital parking lot, to avoid putting other patients' and doctors' lives at risk.
“I thought about calling my wife and my 21-year-old son to tell them what I was about to do, but I decided not to,” Doctor Sanchez told El Tiempo. “They may have tried to convince me not to do it, and I couldn’t afford to have any doubts entering that delicate scenario.”
In a few, heart-pounding minutes doctors applied anesthesia on Luna, and cut a hole in his throat so he could breathe easier. Then they cut into his right cheek and carefully removed the grenade with a pair of tweezers—like a real life version of the classic game Operation.
The explosive artifact was then handed over to the army's anti-bomb squad and Luna was quickly rolled into the hospital to get sewn up.
The head doctor said the soldier will require several reconstructive surgeries to repair the bones and skin smashed by the grenade. The soldier's fractured jaw and cheek will be reconstructed from bones from his ribs.
“He has evolved well,” the chief surgeon said. “We think he will have a perfect recovery process.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.