Medicine: Try for a Miracle

One sunny day last July, Mechanic Billy Smith, 25, went on the job to reline a steel furnace at the U.S. Pipe & Foundry Co. in Decoto, Calif., south of Oakland. Overhead a giant hook dangled from a traveling crane. In a freak accident, the hook crashed down on Billy Smith's right leg and severed it just above the knee. For three hours and 35 minutes, Billy Smith's leg was kept with his body only by a two-inch-wide ribbon of skin.

When Smith was brought into Eden Hospital in nearby Castro Valley, Dr. Stephen Landreth, 37, an orthopedic surgeon, prepared for a...

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