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Imagine having a gruesome accident and needing to choose between two options: salvaging a limb or amputating it.

Rejean Desjardins faced precisely that scenario 18 months ago while out in a forest in western Quebec.

He and his brother were clearing a trail when disaster struck.

"A branch set off my brother's rifle," he said. "A bullet came through my leg. There was no bone left."

Bleeding profusely and having only his clothing hold up his leg, Desjardins was certain he would die.

Desjardins was transported to a small hospital where he was stabilized. 

A team of surgeons at the Montreal General Hospital then took over and gave Desjardins the choices.

"There were tendons that were cut that control the foot, and he was missing about 70 millimetres of bone," said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mitchell Bernstein. 

Desjardins is a hairdresser and stands all day.

He chose what Bernstein dubbed "The Project."

"The bone is one of the only tissues in the body that regenerates, meaning that we can regrow the bone," Bernstein said. 

 

Rebuilding a leg

Bernstein needed the help of a plastic surgeon to help reconstruct Desjardin's skin.

Desjardins was fitted with a hexapod, which was connected to the leg.

"What we do is we cut the bone gently, and then we start to pull it apart," Bernstein said. 

It's a process of healing and pulling apart a quarter of a millimetre at a time, repeated multiple times.

The bone grows about a millimetre a day and is pulled apart four times a day. 

A computer program alerts patients as to when they should pull the bone apart.

 

Progress

Since the accident a year and a half ago, Desjardins' leg has regrown by seven centimetres.

Desjardins said it was a fairly pain-free process.

"They did extraordinary work," Desjardins said.

"It went perfect for him," Bernstein added.

"He walks into the clinic either by himself or with a cane, so that's rewarding [to see]."