A woman’s arms were cut off during a train accident but doctors have stitched them back onto her body and she could regain function in them.

According to a report from Agence France Presse, the 30-year-old woman fell between a train and a platform earlier this month at the train station in Chambéry, in the foothills of the Alps in southeastern France. Her arms were sliced off above the elbow.

Medics who responded to the train station wrapped her severed arms in a sterilized material and put them on ice, AFP said, and that preserved the arms.

Two hours after the arms were cut off, an entire team of medical professionals at a hospital in nearby Grenoble, about 30 miles away, began to reattached them. The Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Grenoble team was performing what AFP called a “rare and complicated” procedure but they were successful.

“The muscles can’t be reactivated completely so some movements will be problematic for the patient, particularly with her hands,” surgeon Michael Bouyer said Friday, according to AFP. “But it will be much better than having a prosthesis.”

A woman whose arms were cut off during an accident at a train station in Chambery, France, had both her limbs successfully reattached. Pixabay, public domain

Generally speaking, the smoother the cut, the easier it is to reattach a severed limb. That’s because surgeons have to do more than just shove the body part into place and sew the skin together — they have to reconnect all the smaller pieces, including bones, nerves, tendons, arteries and veins. If blood flow to the limb is not restored, the tissue will die.

In cases where the cut that severs a limb or another body part is more ragged, doctors may not be able to put the pieces back together.

Time is also of the essence, as is the state of the separated tissue, which is why the medics’ work to preserve the severed arms on the scene of the French train accident was so crucial.

In some cases where a body part cannot be reattached immediately, surgeons may keep the tissue alive by temporarily attaching it to another area of the body, where blood will keep feeding it until it is ready to be moved. In one case where a Chinese factory worker’s right hand was cut off, for example, doctors put it on his left ankle until the rest of his arm was repaired — after being flattened during his accident — and ready to receive the extremity. The ankle was an unusual place for the hand to be temporarily joined.

Dr. Cairian Healy, of the Royal College of Surgeons in England, told the BBC at the time, “Usually surgeons would go for the armpit because the blood supply is better.”

According to AFP, the surgeon Bouyer said the woman was “doing well” and could need one and a half to two years of physical therapy to regain movement in her reattached arms.

The first time doctors reattached two severed arms was in 2008, during a case in Germany, the news service reported. There have been other such operations in China and India since then.