Canada made history yesterday.
A group of Toronto doctors successfully performed a hand and forearm transplant, marking the first time the procedure has even been attempted in this country. And if you think this kind of operation isn’t a big deal, keep in mind the procedure lasted 14 hours and required 18 surgeons. So, yeah, it’s a big deal.
“It’s not a breakthrough as far as doing a new operation, but it means that we have it available now here and that we have a capability of doing this procedure,” Dr. Steven McCabe, who led the surgery at the Toronto Western Hospital, told CTV News.
The patient in the operation was a 49-year-old woman who had lost her arm below the elbow in an accident several years ago. The new hand and forearm, meanwhile, came from a deceased donor. What makes this operation especially difficult, according to Dr. Atul Humar in the video above, is that it is a very “technical” operation that requires a team of surgeons with very specific skills and expertise. And just like with any transplant procedure, the possibility of the new hand and forearm being rejected is still very much alive.
While the patient is recovering well, she still doesn’t have movement in her hand yet. She’s not expected to have any for the next three to six months, as the nerves within begin to heal and regenerate. In the meantime, she will have to take immunosupression medication to help her body accept the transplant. So, even though the operation is over, the road to recovery has only begun.
“Most patients will get back useful feeling and useful motion of their hand and they also have a tremendous sense of satisfaction with the regaining the sense of wholeness, which they can’t get with a prosthesis,” McCabe said. “That’s hard for us to measure, obviously, but patients are typically very happy with that.”
At least, as far as the patient is concerned, there’s at least a bright light at the end of the long tunnel.