German farmer gets first double arm transplant

August 1, 2008 3:18:38 PM PDT
German farmer receives double arm transplant in what is believed to be first of its kind

A German farmer who lost both his arms in an accident has been successfully fitted with two new limbs in what is believed to be the first complete double arm transplant, his surgeons said Friday.

Reiner Gradinger, medical director at the Munich University Clinic, said doctors spent 15 hours on July 25-26 grafting the arms onto the body of a 54-year-old man who had lost his just below the shoulder in the accident six years ago.

"The reattachment appears up to now to have proceeded optimally," Gradinger said, adding the patient is recovering well.

In London, Keith Rigg, vice president of the British Transplantation Society, told The Associated Press that he believes the operation was the world's first double arm transplant.

The farmer's name was not released, nor was the identity of the donor ? a person who died shortly before the surgery.

Christoph Hoehnke, another surgeon on the transplant team, said the complicated procedure went off without any problems. It involved a team of 40 doctors, nurses and assistants working together, attaching one arm and then the other.

"The whole thing went according to script," Hoehnke said.

Transplant recipients face possible complications and a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs, which have side effects.

Surgeon Edgar Biemer said the greatest challenge was establishing blood flow between the farmer's body and muscles in the new arms.

"The muscles have a limited lifespan," Biemer said. Doctors are monitoring the patient closely to make sure his body and immune system do not reject the new limbs.

The patient cannot move his new arms yet. Doctors hope his network of nerves will expand at a pace of around one millimeter (.04 inches) per day. Even in that best-case scenario for growth, it could take two years before he might be able to manipulate his new hands without assistance, they said.

"The regeneration process will take a long time," said Hans-Guenther Machens, director of hand and plastic surgery at the clinic.

In the United States in 2006, a Michigan man got a hand transplant 30 years after losing his own in a machine press. Within a year he was able to write with it, according to the Web site of Jewish Hospital of Louisville, Ky., where the operation was performed.


Load Comments