KOCHI: Basavanna Gowda, 34, a Karnataka resident, had lost both his hands in an accident a decade ago, while working in a rice mill in Bellary district. After years of despair, Gowda has received a new lease of life through a complex hand transplant at Amrita Hospital in Kochi.
The transplanted hands belonged to Kottayam resident Nevis Sajan Mathew, 25, who was declared brain dead on September 25 last year. His parents — Sajan Mathew and Sherin — readily agreed to donate their son’s organs, including hands. And that is when Basavanna’s long wait for a new pair of hands came to an end.
According to the doctors, the surgery lasted around 14 hours. In July 2011, Basavanna suffered a high-tension electrical burn that badly damaged both his hands, turning them lifeless. He was rushed to a hospital in Bellary, and later shifted to Bengaluru where doctors had to amputate his hands below the elbow. In 2016, he enrolled with the hand-transplantation unit of Amrita Hospital.
“The transplants were done in the upper third of the recipient’s forearms. It was a very complicated surgery because, at this level of limb transplantation, only one-third of the natural length of arm muscles are present in the recipient,” said Dr Mohit Sharma, professor and head, Centre for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Amrita Hospital.
He said the team of doctors had to bring the rest of the muscles from the limbs of the donor and overlap those over the existing muscles of the recipient’s hands. “Even the union of the two bones was complicated as we had to bend the joining plates exactly to the shape of the bones. Once the blood flow was restored in the arms, all the nerves and muscles were repaired, followed by skin closure in the end,” Dr Mohit said.
Dr Subramania Iyer, chairman, Centre for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, termed the surgery a huge success. The patient was discharged after a few weeks, he said. “He now needs to undergo a daily routine of active and passive physiotherapy, including muscle stretching. He will also have to take sessions of nerve stimulation to improve the nerve growth and quality of function of the new hands.
Thereafter, he will have to undertake muscle strengthening exercises, followed by occupational therapy and the application of various types of functional splints to facilitate his daily activities. This will continue for at least a year to ensure a good functional outcome. He will be able to actively move his fingers only after a few months. The patient also has to take lifelong medications to prevent the rejection of the transplanted hands,” Dr Iyer said. Devastated after losing both hands at such a young age, Basavanna and his family were shattered.
“Without my hands, I wouldn’t have been able to do any job. The future looked dark. After receiving new hands, I feel that I have got a fresh lease of life. I am looking forward to leading a normal life. I thank the doctors of Amrita Hospital from the bottom of my heart for giving me a second chance,” said Basavanna, who underwent the surgery on September 25 and was discharged towards the end of October. The transplant team at Amrita hospital comprises Dr Subramania Iyer, Dr Mohit Sharma, Dr Kishore P, Dr Jimmy Mathew, Dr Janarthanan R and Dr Devajyoti Guin.
This is the ninth successful hand transplant done at Amrita Hospital. “Six patients are currently waitlisted for hand transplantation at our hospital. Though multi-organ donations from deceased people have been increasing in the country, instances of donations of hands have been very low because of fear of mutilation of the body. The donor’s family hesitates to permit hand donation due to this. We take special care to fit the donor body with prosthetic limbs to avoid any disfigurement,” said Dr Mohit.