Leeches, A Medical Advance from the Past

What kind of company would choose to promote itself with an advertising slogan that declares: "Our business really sucks"?

How about one that's in the business of leeches? I'm not talking about blood-sucking Washington lobbyists, but the real thing. These undulating, black, slimy, water creatures were used by medieval doctors who believed that leeches could remove the "evils" inflicting an ill person. Long shunned by modern medicine as quackery, the much-maligned practice of "bleeding" patients with leeches turns out to be medically beneficial after all, so the blood-suckers are being welcomed back into some of America's finest hospitals.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that a company called Leeches USA, the largest supplier of leeches in the country, ships about 30,000 of them a year to doctors who specialize in reattaching severed fingers, ears, and other body parts. It seems that a nagging problem with the reattachment procedure is that tiny veins don't get reconnected, blood then pools in the reattached part, and gangrene can develop if the blood is not removed. What better for blood removal than a creature designed by Mother Nature to do just that? Sticking a leech on the affected area controls the blood pool, and within a week, your body will regenerate the veins on its own. You get well, the leech gets fed, and everyone lives happily ever after. One administrator says hospitals have "had tremendous success with these little suckers."

The Inquirer notes that leeches are perfectly suited for this symbiotic relationship with patients, for their saliva contains an anticoagulant to keep the blood from clotting and it secretes a natural anesthetic that can eliminate the feel of its bite.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... Even the patients seem to like it. A 12-year old boy who lost a finger told the Inquirer that he "wasn't too fond of it at first," but "They're my favorite animal now. I'd like to get my own leech farm going soon," he says. Yippie-ti-yi-yo, git along little leeches!

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