Oct. 14, 2011 at 12:25 PM ET
After Richard Mangino lost his arms below the elbows and legs below the knees from sepsis in 2002, prostheses enabled him to continue to follow his passion for painting and drawing.
But the 65-year-old Massachusetts man longed to be able to feel his grandchildren’s faces and stroke their hair, pleasures not even the most sophisticated artificial limbs could afford.
Inspired by his family, Mangino last week became the fourth person in the United States to receive a double hand transplant, according to his doctors at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“Today my miracle has come true,” Mangino said Thursday at a press conference at the hospital, his new hands and forearms resting on pillows in his lap piled nearly to shoulder height. He’d had his limbs amputated after developing a bloodstream infection.
The hospital isn’t disclosing the exact date of the 12-hour operation to protect the donor’s anonymity. Registering as an organ and tissue donor on a driver’s license isn’t considered consent for this type of donation, so the New England Donor Bank had to obtain permission from the donor’s family.
At the press conference, Richard Luskin, executive director of the New England Donor Bank, read a statement from the donor’s wife. “He would have wanted to continue helping people,” the donor’s wife said. “My husband always said, ‘it’s just a body.’ I didn’t have to struggle with the decision.”
Simon Talbot, the hand surgeon who directed the 40-member team involved in Mangino’s transplant surgery, said “the results so far have been an amazing success.” Within a few days of the operation, Talbot said, Mangino could move his fingers.
Still, Mangino faces months of therapy and healing, Talbot said. He should be able to feel his grandchildren’s faces with his hands in six to nine months, Talbot said, and his fine muscle movement should return in nine to 18 months.
When asked whether Mangino will ever be able to play the guitar again, as he had before his amputations, Talbot said, “we never say never.”