Maggots stave off surgery for Arizona woman

Medical maggots are raised in a sterile environment to prevent infections.
Medical maggots are raised in a sterile environment to prevent infections.(kold, TMC)
Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 3:44 PM EDT
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13/Gray News) - It’s the spooky season for creepy crawlies, but maggots? Tucson Medical Center recently used them to help keep a patient from having surgery.

According to KOLD, it’s a method doctors say could be used more.

“She had wounds on both sides of both ankles, very severe wounds, and she had several medical conditions that make her immunocompromised,” said Dr. Erika Huston, a podiatrist on-call at TMC.

Dr. Huston and nurse practitioner Ashlee Garcia treated a woman who had infections in her leg wounds and actually came in with live maggots on one of them, giving the medical team an idea.

“My original plan was to take her to surgery to clean out and remove the maggots and all the dead tissue,” Dr. Huston said. “(I) took the dressing off the next day, and the maggots had cleaned the wound significantly … so I said, ‘Let’s see if we can do that while she’s here.’”

“With the maggots, they’re very selective. So, they only eat the dead tissue and the wound essentially stays about the same size,” Garcia said.

By ordering and carefully putting medical maggots, meaning maggots raised in a sterile environment, on the patient, the patient’s injuries didn’t grow nor get worse; they got better.

“They often don’t need to go to surgery because the maggots have already done my job for me,” Dr. Huston said.

The maggots are carefully placed and left for about two days, during which time they eat the dead tissue. The practice is well known, but not used too frequently. It had been about 15 years since TMC had ordered and used maggots on a patient. Often, the largest hurdle is patient hesitancy to use the maggots on their wounds.

“I would say at minimum (they) double in size over the 48 hours,” Garcia said. “She was very open to it. She didn’t mind so much. She didn’t want to watch the process, but she was really okay with the concept.”

The patient had an antibiotic IV to help with infections and the medical team urges people to not try to treat wounds with maggots themselves.

“The free-range maggots, as we call them, are not sterile. You do not want to stick your foot out and hope a fly lands on it … It’s not sanitary,” Dr. Huston said.

The patient has since been discharged and is finishing the last bit of recovery at home. The team hopes they may be able to use this process more, giving patients a quicker recovery time and avoiding surgery.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13 via Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.