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Hand transplant patient doing well

After two years of gruelling rehabilitation and daily doses of immunosuppressants, the recipient of Australia’s first hand transplant is doing well.

The 67 year-old Victorian man can now write, feed himself and put on his own prosthetic limbs. The man had all four of his limbs amputated in 2006 after he developed pneumococcal sepsis, following a splenectomy 32 years earlier, which led to progressive gangrene.

The transplant was a nine-hour operation involving 10 surgeons, with a hand donated from a brain-dead male multi-organ donor. The hand was attached in 2011 to what remained of his right hand, which had been amputated distal to the carpometacarpal joint.

Prior to the transplant, surgeons fashioned a semi-functional faux thumb on his left hand.

There were some concerns about post-transplant immunosuppression because of the patient’s age and his impaired glucose tolerance, osteoporosis of the left hip, and a number of solar keratoses. However, despite these issues, a decision was made to perform a unilateral hand transplant.

Dr Karen Dwyer, a transplant physician at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne who was involved in the case, said the patient had done extremely well in integrating his new hand both functionally and psychologically.

“He’s really applied himself to the rehabilitation and essentially achieved all the goals that he set himself,” Dr Dwyer said. “The whole transplant process has been remarkable. It’s been a pretty extraordinary case to be involved in.”

More than 70 hand transplants have been preformed worldwide since 1998 with recipients having mixed results.

In 1998, A New Zealand man had a transplant preformed in France but the hand only lasted for 29 months. However, the recipient of a transplant preformed in the US in 1999 still has functionality of their hand more than 14 years later.

Kirsty Waterford

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