Hand Transplant patient

Richard Mangino holds his wife’s hand after his double hand transplant.

Have you ever thought about what life would be like if you lost your hands?

My mind races to the practical. Would I need someone to feed me because I couldn’t grasp a fork and knife? Would someone have to wash me and brush my teeth? Would I fear the loss of my independence and, whether rational or not, my dignity?

It turns out that it would be so much more than that. Ask Richard Mangino.

Richard Mangino, 65, of Revere, MA, lost his arms below the elbows and his legs below the knees after contracting sepsis, a bacterial infection, in 2002. Mangino, however, wasn’t about to give up his independence. After he was fitted with prosthetic limbs, he worked hard to return to doing practical things that most of us take for granted, like mowing the lawn and painting. His loved ones were amazed and thankful. He then channeled that success into teaching others how to effectively use their artificial limbs. But Mangino still felt that something was missing, so physicians proposed an innovative alternative to his prosthetic hands.

In early October 2011, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) team of more than 40 surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, residents, radiologists, and physician assistants worked for more than 12 hours to perform a bilateral (double) hand transplant for Mangino. During the procedure, skin, tendons, muscles, ligaments, bones, and blood vessels were removed from the donor and delicately connected to Mangino’s arms.

The transplant was successful, but Mangino’s road to recovery will be long. He will have go through months of physical therapy before he will be able to effectively grasp objects with his hands, and it will be several years before his hands become fully functional. He will also have to commit to a lifetime of taking immunosuppressant medications so that his body won’t reject his new hands.

So why would Mangino elect to undergo a new and complicated procedure when he already had regained a significant measure of independence and functionality with prosthetic hands?

For one, having normal-looking hands can lead to tremendous psychological benefits, including increased confidence and an improved mood. But Mangino was focused on something besides appearance.

“The one miracle I have prayed for since my oldest grandson, Trevor, was born was to be able to feel the sense of touch again – to touch his and Nicky’s [his other grandson] little faces, and stroke their hair, and to teach them to throw a ball,” said Mangino shortly after his surgery. “To me, that would be a miracle. And my miracle has come true.”

– Chris P

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