Doctors Restore a Dream
CPMC Doctors Perform Rare Forehead and Scalp Reattachment on Young Stockton Woman
By Laura Miyashita
Imagine performing surgery to reconstruct arteries within the head, each as wide as the lead in a mechanical pencil. How does one place sutures in something so tiny but critical to life?
Enter microsurgery, a specialized field of medicine that is highly complex, technically precise, and holds lifesaving outcomes for its recipients.
Performed using a microscope with 40x magnification and sutures thinner than the width of a human hair, microsurgery is used by doctors to reattach limbs, repair nerves and reconstruct parts of the body after cancer surgery. Since 1970, physicians at the Buncke Clinic at California Pacific Medical Center have pioneered microsurgery, receiving worldwide recognition for their thousands of reconstructive procedures.
Life Turns on a Dime
Last April, CPMC’s microsurgery team from the Buncke Clinic was put to the test when 22-year-old Stockton resident Sonya Dominguez came via helicopter following a workplace accident. Her hair had become caught in machinery at her workplace, tearing off her forehead and scalp.
After Sonya’s arrival, Brian Parrett, M.D., and Bauback Safa, M.D., lead microsurgeons on her case, raced against time to successfully restore blood supply and replant her completely amputated forehead and scalp. “All told, we had to connect two very small arteries [under 1 mm in diameter] and four veins within Sonya’s forehead and scalp, as well as reattach her scalp and reconstruct her ear,” explains Parrett.
Due to damage sustained on the left side of Sonya’s scalp, those arteries and veins could not be repaired directly. “Ultimately, we used veins from the top of Sonya’s foot to reconstruct certain arteries and veins within her scalp,” says Parrett. “When this was done, there was excellent blood flow into the scalp.”
Sonya’s seven-hour procedure has been performed only a few dozen times worldwide, as replantation of an entire scalp and forehead is very uncommon, explains Gregory Buncke, M.D., chief of plastic surgery at CPMC. While Sonya has little memory of the accident, she marvels at her doctors’ expertise and care. “I put my trust in their hands, and my doctors made it all happen. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” explains Sonya.
Typically, hospital recovery following such an extensive surgery takes more than two weeks, but Sonya was determined to return home and start a new chapter in life, facing everything that happened. “During my stay at CPMC, the medical team made me feel like I was their #1 priority, which made me feel really good in terms of my recovery,” says Sonya. This care, coupled with her motivation and her family’s support, resulted in Sonya being discharged home just seven days after her surgery.
A few months after her accident, Sonya and her fiancé—who, along with her family, had been by her side through everything—were married. “We were engaged before the accident and I was ready for marriage. I really didn’t want the accident to take away from my dreams,” she says.
Determined to be living proof that bad things happen but that you can get through them, Sonya is passionate about her recovery. She says, “While something like this can change your life, it’s up to you to step up and take the situation and live by it.”
That means getting used to the small bald spot on the back of her head, the absence of her long hair, and the scars on her face, which are slowly fading. “My hair is now growing faster than I thought it would, but I still have a lot of headaches and a tingling sensation in my head,” she explains.
For Dr. Parrett, Sonya’s story encapsulates why he pursued this field of medicine. “Microsurgery provides solutions to very difficult problems,” explains Dr. Parrett. “By restoring form and function in patients, we can offer new hope, and maybe a new lease on life.”
For more information on CPMC’s Microsurgery Program, visit cpmc.org/microsurg.