A man in the UK is the first person to receive a double hand transplant. The patient and his new hands are still fine (and thank goodness) five months after surgery.
Second the BBC, Steven Gallagher, a 48 year old British man, is suffering from scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease that stiffens and scarred the skin and other parts of the body. At 40, the condition had forced his hands to close permanently and caused him excruciating suffering. After consulting with a doctor, Gallagher decided to undergo an unprecedented surgery: a double hand transplant, performed in December 2021 with the duration of 12 hours and the contribution of 30 health professionals.
The first known hand transplant was performed more than twenty years ago: they have been in the medical literature ever since about 100 transplants documented. This is the first done specifically for someone with scleroderma. And so far, Gallagher is very happy with the results.
Double hand transplant
“After the operation, I woke up and it was quite surreal,” says the patient. “These hands are great, it all happened so fast. I was able to move these hands from the moment I woke up from the operation ”.
Five months later, Gallagher's new hands regained the ability to turn on a faucet, take and fill a cup of water, and stroke the dog. But most importantly, the pain in his hands is gone. Something by no means obvious.
And that's good news, because these transplants they are not without risks. Patients must go on a lifelong course of immunosuppressants to keep their body from rejecting their new hands. Drugs that increase other health risks. If we add surgery, rehabilitation and other aids, the cost of managing a hand transplant can be close to half a million dollars.
Hand transplant, progress in the industry
Based on the available evidence, donor hands are rarely rejected to the point of having to be removed by patients today. Most of them are satisfied decades later. In the future, advances in immunosuppressive drugs could reduce costs and make this treatment much more practical.
And the patient who received his quarters of hands as a gift? Gallagher just hopes to become practical enough to find work and enjoy other activities again.
“It gave me a new lease on life,” he says. "I still find some things difficult, but I improve from week to week, constantly"