Double arm transplant man is ‘feeling excellent’

An Icelandic man who got the world’s first double shoulder and arm transplant is recovering well after the operation, two decades after the accident that cost him both limbs, doctors said today.

They said it was still uncertain how much mobility Felix Gretarsson, 48, will eventually recover following the operation earlier this month in the French southeastern city of Lyon.

But “giving a little to somebody who was missing so much, that’s already a lot” Aram Gazarian, the lead surgeon in the operation, told a news conference.

“If he can recover the possibility to actively bend his elbow, that would be a life-changer,” he said.

In a short video from his hospital bed, Mr Gretarsson said: “I just got new arms after living without arms for 23 years. One week ago I got transplanted these two beauties.

“I am feeling hopeful, I am feeling excellent. I can’t wait to attack this new way of living. I know I am not there yet. We have three years of rehabilitation [ahead] but I am super hopeful and super happy.” 

On January 12, 1998, Gretarsson, an electrician, was working on a high-voltage power line when an 11,000-volt surge burned his hands and flung him to the icy ground.

He sustained multiple fractures and internal injuries, and went into a three-month coma during which surgeons amputated both arms.

He underwent several more operations, including a liver transplant.

When hand transplant pioneer Jean-Michel Dubernard, based in Lyon, visited Reykjavik for a conference, Mr Gretarsson asked him whether it would be possible to replace the lost limbs.

The operations was “his biggest dream”, Mr Gretarsson’s wife Sylwia told a news conference today, adding that she herself never felt that the operation was truly necessary as he “wasn’t missing anything”.

It took years to find suitable donors, during which some 50 medical staff in total became involved in the preparations for the operation.

Four surgical teams were involved to minimise the transition time between donor and recipient.

Doctors said today the outlook for the right arm to become functional is better than for the left, which had also required a complete rebuild of the shoulder.

No serious complications had been detected nine days after the operation, they said.

The patient was a long way from being able to move his arms, but seemed visibly pleased with the outcome in a short video shot at his hospital bed and shown at the news conference.

“With this level of amputation, we can’t promise anything,” said Lionel Badet, the surgeon who launched the medical protocol for the operation in 2010.

Mr Gretarsson has years of re-education ahead of him, he said, “but we will support him all his life”.