Life One Year After a Double-Hand Transplant

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There are many things in life that we take for granted — mundane things, like scratching an itch, dialing a telephone, or making ourselves a sandwich. For Richard Mangino, these ordinary tasks were almost impossible after he developed a bloodstream infection in 2002 and had to have part of his arms and legs amputated in order to survive.

Last year, Mangino received new donated hands in a 12-hour surgery performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Dr. Bohdan Pomahac was the leader of Mangino’s transplant team.

"It's like you can fly," Mangino says of being given new hands. "It's wonderful."

This surgery is not only an exciting development in the field of transplants. It has potential to lead to other discoveries as well.

"If a person loses a hand, representation in the brain, the map that used to present the functioning neurons that controlled the fingers and the wrist, those essentially disappear," Dr. Pomahac says. "When the patient gets the transplant back… we see regrowth of this brain area… and that's a very fascinating example of plasticity in the brain." Dr. Pomahac says that there is hope that this regrowth could be harnessed, and used to help stroke victims.

Richard Mangino's hands aren't perfect — he still has a long way to go on the slow road to recovery. But he isn't discouraged. 

"You have to be creative, and you have to have some ingenuity when you don't quite have everything," Mangino says. "It is getting better everyday. I can drive, I can drink coffee… I can sign my name." 

"People ask me what I want a year from now, and what I want is what I have now," Mangino says. "Today, is the future, right now."