Amrita Hospital created medical history in January 2015 by carrying out India?s first hand transplant of a 30-year-old patient, Manu TR. This feat was quickly followed by another hand transplant surgery in April 2015 of a young Afghan soldier, Abdul Rahim. These, along with that of Jith Kumar Saji now, are the only three hand transplants ever been done in India.
Saji, the son of a mason hailing from a small village in Kerala?s northern district of Kannur, used to work as a light-and-sound assistant with a local event management group. While at work in August 2013, he fell on live high-tension electric wires when the tent under which he was working suddenly collapsed. He sustained severe burns to both him arms. He was rushed to the hospital unconscious, but his hands couldn?t be saved and had to be amputated below the elbow.
?This surgery was technically much more complicated than the previous two hand transplants done by us at Amrita Hospital. In hand transplants done above the wrist, the tendons are still connected to each other. But in a forearm transplant, these connections have to be made to the muscle mass. Identification, tagging and connecting the nerves, tendons and arteries is very challenging. That is why forearm transplants have been attempted only a few times in the world,? said Dr. Subramania Iyer, Head of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences & Research Centre.
Saji received the forearms of a 24-year-old youth Raison Sunny, who was declared brain dead after a road accident. It was conducted by a team of 25 surgeons and a 12-member anesthetic team and the marathon surgery lasted 14 hours.
?It was essential not to lose any time. Since the transplant involved large quantity of muscles, rejoining them to the recipient?s body and reestablishing blood supply had to be quicker, compared to the earlier two hand transplants done by us. The hands after harvesting from the donor were covered in ice-containing wrappers several times to reduce their metabolism, and rushed to Amrita Hospital in an ambulance,? said Dr. Subramania Iyer.
Saji spent three weeks in the transplant ICU after the surgery and is now fit to be discharged. He has been undergoing physiotherapy and can use both his elbows. He is even able to eat with the support of special splints. Saji would need to undergo intensive physiotherapy and rehabilitation exercises for at least two years for his hand functions to return fully. In addition, he will have to take lifelong immunosuppressant medications to prevent the rejection of the transplanted hands.
Image courtesy: Amrita Hospital