Published December 1, 2022

9 min read

A rare type of cancer called synovial sarcoma landed Ellie Lofgreen at the University of Utah Hospital this summer. Surgeons removed a tumor—the size of a small cantaloupe—wrapped around her knee joint and also cut out a few inches of bone and muscle connected to the knee. They inserted a metal implant in her leg and covered it with a large flap of muscle and skin transplanted from her upper thigh. But a few hours later, the flap began turning purple, a sign, the doctors knew, that the transplanted tissue was dying.

Saving the graft was critical so the medical team proposed a treatment that surprised Lofgreen: leeches.

“I was absolutely floored,” says the 31-year-old Idaho resident. “My initial reaction was, Okay, anything but that.”

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