Arm Transplant Katy Hayes

Arm transplant candidate Katy Hayes, 44, looks forward to having new arms to hold her husband and children.

Katy Hayes of Kingwood, TX, wants to be a pioneer. Wearing a broad smile, she talks about her wish to become the first person in the country to receive an above-the-elbow double arm transplant and her eagerness to grasp the opportunities that such an innovative surgery would bring.

Katy, 44, became a quadruple amputee in 2010. After giving birth to her third child, she developed a life-threatening streptococcal A infection that required surgeons to amputate her arms above the elbows and her legs above the knees.

Katy has since recovered well and maintained an optimistic attitude, but feels that she won’t be content until she has natural limbs once again. She gamely tried using artificial prosthetics, but they left her uncomfortable and unsatisfied. Not only did they prove to be unwieldy when trying to perform basic hygiene tasks and cause her body to overheat under the Texas sun, but they also failed to provide something particularly important for a woman who practiced massage therapy for more than 17 years – a sense of touch.

That opportunity, however, is now within reach. After completing a thorough medical and psychological evaluation process over the course of several months at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Katy was approved this week as a candidate for a bilateral (double) arm transplant. The next key step, which has already begun, is to work with the New England Organ Bank (NEOB) to identify a suitable donor.

Once a match for Katy has been found, Dr. Bohdan Pomhac, Director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation, and Dr. Simon Talbot, Surgical Lead of Katy’s transplant team, will lead four surgical teams in simultaneously removing both donor arms and then meticulously attaching the bones, muscles, tendons, arteries, veins, and skin of these arms to Katy’s body. Following surgery, Katy will participate in about three to six months of physical and occupational therapy at BWH and then return to Texas for further rehabilitation. The return of sensation and functionality in Katy’s arms is expected to progress slowly over a period of years.

“We feel that we have pioneered and helped to evolve a new era in reconstructive surgery, one that I call ‘restorative surgery,’” says Dr. Pomahac. “It offers the ability to truly replace – anatomically and functionally – missing units of the body.”

While Katy waits for this surgery to become a reality, she understandably has become a bit preoccupied with the prospect of having new limbs. She imagines taking care of daily tasks like brushing her teeth on her own and actually feeling her husband Al and her three children in her arms.

“I’m so excited I can’t tell you,” she says. “I think about it all the time. It’ll be like I’m meeting a new friend.”

For more about Katy’s story, watch this short video.

– Chris P

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