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Give them a hand: 21-year-old receives India’s first twin forearm transplant

Jith Kumar Saji underwent India’s first forearm transplant at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) in Kochi.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2016 13:33 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Jith Kumar Saji,India's 1st forearm transplant,Kochi
Jith Kumar Saji (right) with a physiotherapist after his surgery.(HT Photo)

Jith Kumar Saji hasn’t stopped smiling and swinging his arms about since he got a new pair of hands.

The 21-year-old lost both his arms from the elbow down due to an electrical burn injury when he fell on a live high-tension wire three years ago.

But he was handed his arms back on May 24, when he underwent India’s first forearm transplant at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) in Kochi. He went home on Friday.

Three successful hand transplants have been done in India, Saji’s case included, all at AIMS.

The recipient of the first transplant, 31-year-old Manu TR, now works at the institute as a counselor to encourage people to donate organs and help other recipients get their lives back on track.

All the three transplants have been “bilateral” or double, which means both hands were transplanted in a single surgery.

Forearm transplants – for patients with hands missing from the elbow – are very challenging and attempted only a few times in the world.

A team of 25 surgeons and 12 anaesthetists -- led by plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr Subramania Iyer -- worked together to preserve as much tissue as they could and transplanted the new hand over them.

The entire surgery on Saji, including the retrieval and transplantation, took 14 hours and was done for free.

India’s first hand transplant recipient was Manu, then 29, who got new hands on January 12, 2015. The second recipient was Captain Abdul Rahim, who worked with Afghanistan’s Border Security Force and had lost both arms while defusing a bomb near Kabul.

The three surgeries have put India among a handful of countries -- including the France, United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Iran and China -- that have successfully done hand transplants.

The forearm transplant is surgically more challenging than the wrist and hand transplants because the muscles that move the hand, fingers and thumb are located in the forearm, which was badly damaged by the electrical burns in Saji’s case.

“In transplants done above the wrist, the tendons are still connected, 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,” said Dr Iyer.

Saji’s donor was Raison Sunny, 24, who was declared brain dead after a scooter accident in Angamaly, 30 kilometres away from Kochi.

Saji was discharged on Friday but will continue physiotherapy for two years to regain complete hand function and take immunosuppressant medicines for life to stop his body from rejecting his transplanted hands.

First Published: Jul 30, 2016 00:44 IST