Three years ago, 30-year-old Narayanaswamy thought he would never be able to live life normally again. Today he works as ward manager at the government hospital in Dindigul. A mason by occupation, Narayanaswamy lost both his hands in 2015 in an accident. Last year, he was taken up for the first ever double hand transplant conducted by a government hospital in India and is considerably recovering.
“The accident occurred when he was working to fix a centre rod and received a high voltage shock to both his hands via a high tension wire. At the time, doctors felt that it was best to amputate both his hands from the elbow down,” says Dr Rama Devi, the Head of the Institute for Research and Rehabilitation of Hand and Department of Plastic Surgery, Stanley Medical College and Hospital in Chennai.
After his accident, Narayanaswamy went to several hospitals and visited numerous doctors to see what could be done about his situation. It was when he visited Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Kochi in 2017 that doctors told him about the possibility of undergoing a double hand transplant.
“He was told that it would take roughly Rs 20 lakh to undergo the procedure. Considering the fact that he was unable to come up with such a large amount of money, he wrote a letter to the district collector who then appealed to us. It happened to be so that the first person who had donated his limbs happened to match Narayanaswamy’s blood type, so we could take him up for the transplant surgery,” adds Dr Rama Devi.
This was the first time that such a procedure was taken up by a government healthcare set up in the entire country. He underwent a long surgery on February 6, 2018. Following the surgery, he was doing well and underwent physiotherapy for months.
Now a year later, after having made significant leaps on his journey to recovery, Narayanaswamy is now able to feel sensations and perform his activities on his own. “I can comb my hair, wear my shirt, eat food with a spoon, lift a coffee mug and drink, bowl in a match and answer calls on my mobile,” he said to TOI.
Hand transplants fall under a category of surgeries called ‘reconstructive transplants.’ Such procedures are undertaken for tissues in the body which retain a good blood supply following an injury or accident. While prosthetics are an option for some people, experts say that in some cases it is more favourable to opt for a hand transplant as the person is able to regain complete use of their limbs and sensations, unlike with prosthetics.
While this has been a successful case, Dr Rama does say that it's not a surgery which is carried out very frequently. Not only is the procedure expensive, but people are generally hesitant to donate organs, and it is more difficult to convince them to donate limbs.
Earlier last year, a 31-year-old man underwent a double hand transplant in Puducherry’s JIPMER hospital following an accident which caused him to lose both his hands.