“Man-trunk” by accident, he wanted to become a “whole man” again, explain his surgeons. In Lyon, in central-eastern France, an Icelandic man was grafted with both arms at the shoulder, the first of its kind, without it being yet known what movements he will be able to perform.
“For someone who was lacking a lot, bringing a little is already a lot”, humbly estimates Dr Aram Gazarian, surgical manager of the operation. “If we can restore active flexion of his elbow, we change his life. “
Doctors are hopeful for the right arm, less for the left, for which the entire shoulder had to be rebuilt. If it would be “magnificent” that Felix Gretarsson also recovers the use of wrists and hands, they make no prognosis.
Nevertheless: the operation carried out on January 13, 23 years after a terrible accident at work, was “the dearest dream” of this 48-year-old Icelandic, his wife Sylvia told an organized press conference. Friday at Édouard Herriot hospital with the medical team.
“For me, my husband lacked nothing, the operation was not necessary”, assures the one who met him with his handicap. She has never ceased, however, to support him during the five years spent waiting for transplants – donors are running out and delays are getting longer, to the chagrin of doctors.
The life of this electrical worker changed on January 12, 1998. While working on a high voltage line in Iceland, an 11,000 volt discharge burned his hands and threw him onto the icy ground. The body bruised by countless fractures, the internal organs affected, he is plunged into a coma for three months. When he wakes up, he is amputated.
He underwent numerous operations, including a liver transplant. Determined to find arms, he did not hesitate, in 2007, to present his case to the Lyon professor Jean-Michel Dubernard, world pioneer of hand transplants, passing through Reykjavik for a conference.
” I arrive! ”
Hope arises after initial tests, and the “man without arms” who moves Iceland moves to Lyon for an operation. In 2010, a specific clinical research protocol was launched by Professor Lionel Badet within the CHU (university hospital center), in partnership with a private establishment, the Clinique du Parc.
In total, around fifty people took part in this feat. “We had a WhatsApp group and when we found out we had a donor, everyone replied: I’m coming! », Says Professor Emmanuel Morelon, responsible for immunosuppressive therapy intended to prevent rejection of the transplant.
Four teams of surgeons simultaneously prepared donor and recipient in order to minimize the time of ischemia – deprivation of vascularization – of the muscles. This first phase lasted in the end less than five hours, during which the many nerve structures were tagged for easy identification afterwards.
Once detached, the donor’s arms were transported to the recipient’s operating theater, while being replaced with cosmetic prostheses in order to restore the deceased’s body to an acceptable appearance for those close to him.
The transplantation then lasted 1 hour 50 minutes for the right arm, 2 hours 20 minutes for the left. Bone reconstruction first, then revascularization of the limbs with suturing of the arteries and veins, before the longest: connection of muscles, tendons and nerves, and finally the installation of the skin.
Nine days later, no serious complications are observed. Healing is in progress and only venous thrombosis, without consequence on the graft, is treated. The patient is still a long way from moving his arms but he looked satisfied in a short video broadcast from his hospital bed.
“At this level of amputation, we can not promise anything,” said Professor Badet. “He has years of rehabilitation ahead of him but we will support him all his life, we undertake to never let go”, assures Professor Morelon.