'I was blown away by how easy it was'

In Israeli first, doctor uses metal detector to find shrapnel in wounded soldiers

Low-tech innovation resulting in far quicker treatment earns surgeon Eyal Sela praise from Galilee Medical Center head, who hails initiative as ‘thinking outside the box’

Reporter at The Times of Israel

An undated photo of Dr. Eyal Sela with the metal detector at the Galilee Medical Center. (Roni Albert)
An undated photo of Dr. Eyal Sela with the metal detector at the Galilee Medical Center. (Roni Albert)

With the beep of a metal detector bought online, Dr. Eyal Sela of the Galilee Medical Center is now able to locate bullets and metal fragments lodged inside patients’ bodies within minutes of reaching the operating room.

The director of the Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery Department said that the idea of using a metal detector during surgery came to him in March “out of frustration,” Sela told The Times of Israel.

Sela had been struggling for more than an hour to locate a bullet lodged in the base of the skull of a soldier wounded by Hezbollah fire on the northern border, amid daily skirmishes on the northern border with the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group, which has resulted in scores of soldiers and civilians wounded.

The bullet had gone through the soldier’s face and stuck “deep in the base of his skull.”

When a bullet goes through human tissue, “it’s a high-velocity wound that burns the tissue,” Sela said.

Shrapnel fragments in the hand or leg are easier to locate, he said. When they’re in the head or neck area, it’s “much more challenging.”

“The areas are complex and sensitive,” he said. “Even slight movements during surgery can cause paralysis due to the proximity to nerves and blood vessels.”

After using X-rays and CT scans, Sela was able to locate the bullet, but it took him more than an hour. He needed a way to locate the metal fragment faster — and to have something in real time to guide him.

“If I had a metal detector, I’d find it immediately,” Sela thought.

He went home and ordered a simple metal detector on AliExpress.

On June 5, after Hezbollah attacked the northern Israeli town of Hurfeish, killing one reserve soldier and wounding 10 other people, a female soldier came to the hospital with many pieces of shrapnel in the back of her skull, the physician said.

The site of an apparent drone impact in the northern town of Hurfeish, June 5, 2024. (Screenshot: X)

In an Israeli first, Sela brought the sterilized metal detector into the hospital operating room and got to work.

“The metal detector beeped and immediately showed me the exact location for cutting her skin to remove the fragments,” Sela said.

After about ten minutes, he had successfully removed all the fragments.

“I was blown away by how easy it was,” he said.

Sela said he has so far used the metal detector to operate on about nine wounded soldiers.

He presented his findings at the Annual Meeting of the Israeli Society of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery in mid-June. He said he plans to write about it in a paper “before anyone else does.”

Some of his colleagues are now using metal detectors during their surgeries, he said, adding that it is also a way to cut down exposure to radiation from X-rays.

“I welcome initiatives like this that indicate thinking outside the box,” said Prof. Masad Barhoum, director of the medical center, in a statement. “It shows the uncompromising dedication to our patients.”

Hezbollah began attacking Israel the day after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught sparked the war in Gaza. Hezbollah has said it will not stop until there is a ceasefire in Gaza. Skirmishes on the border have resulted in the deaths of 10 Israeli civilians and 15 IDF soldiers and reservists.

Hundreds of wounded soldiers and civilians have been brought to the medical center, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border.

Sela said that he is still in touch with two of the wounded soldiers he treated using the metal detector.

“I promised I’d visit one of them, and the other told me that he would invite me to his wedding,” Sela said.

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