Just like the kidney, heart, and liver, bilateral hand transplants are also, albeit infrequently, happening in the country. “Unfortunately, the awareness regarding the hand as an organ for donation is very less,” said Dr S Selva SeethaRaman, HOD, and senior consultant – Institute of Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery, Gleneagles Global Health City, Chennai, who led a team of expert plastic surgeons and paramedics to perform a life-changing bilateral hand transplant (below elbow) on a 24-year-old man from Tamil Nadu’s Kancheepuram district.
The 16-hour long hand transplant was done on May 28-29 this year.
“There are a lot of amputees in India who struggle to cope with daily life. At the same time, a lot of hands get wasted because while people come forward to donate other organs, the hands are not donated. This is because the hand is an exposed organ and the family feels a person may get mutilated. But, hand donation can give a new lease of life to so many people, especially when the patient is the breadwinner of a family,” Dr SeethaRaman told indianexpress.com.
“This is because you are someone who works hard to support your family, and then suddenly you may have to depend on someone else for your daily needs. This surgery is an attempt to enable such people to live a normal life, or at least carry out their basic activities,” he added.
Talking about the patient, the expert shared that the man had lost both his hands due to high voltage (11,000 kws) electrical burns in 2018 at the ripe age of 21, and required his mother’s support for routine chores. He registered with the Transplant Authority of Tamil Nadu (TRANSTAN) for a hand transplant, but owing to the availability of very few hand donors, and the pandemic, finding a match took three years until he found a match in a brain-dead woman from Ahmedabad.
“Hand matching is the same as any other organ transplant. First a blood group matching is done, followed by a cross-matching of the blood samples,” informed Dr SeethaRaman.
Following the match, with the support, swift action, and timely clearances of NOTTA, the respective state governments, TRANSTAN, and DMS, the hands were flown from Ahmedabad to Chennai, covering 1,800 kms, and brought to the hospital. “The golden period is 6-8 hours and the harvest needs to be done within this period,” Dr SeethaRaman said.
The team of eight plastic surgeons — four orthopedicians, a vascular surgeon, four anaesthetists, a nephrologist (transplant immunology), and 30 paramedical personnel were recently felicitated by vice president M Venkaiah Naidu. “It gives me a sense of pride that the country is blessed with such remarkable and dedicated doctors across states. From my understanding, the process indeed has been strenuous, and the doctors have taken a very meticulous approach in achieving this as a team. This case is a great example to motivate people to step forward and donate organs, especially hands of brain-dead patients, and provide a good quality of life to the disabled,” Naidu said, according to a press statement.
After more than 65 days of his transplant, the Kancheepuram man spoke with indianexpress.com and expressed immense joy at being able to use his hands for daily chores. “The experience cannot be described in words. I thought my life was over the day I met with the accident in October 2018. But I am too happy now, and the feeling of being able to use hands again in unparalleled. This couldn’t have been possible without the support of doctors as well as the donor who have helped me re-start my life,” he said, adding that he expressed his gratitude to the donor’s mother, too.
“She broke down looking at the tattoos her daughter’s hands have…one is of a leaf and another is of a butterfly. I have vowed to keep them like that for the rest of my life,” he shared, while recollecting the conversation with the donor’s mother.
His road to recovery is gradual with physiotherapy and medications. “Doctors have been extremely hopeful about the recovery pace. I am able to use my hands almost completely. Still I struggle with moving the fingers which I am trying to improve with the ongoing physiotherapy sessions,” said the man for whom the next six months are crucial.