Kiwi Doctor to Perform Double Arm Transplant
New Zealand Doctor Simon Talbot will lead a surgical team to give a quadruple amputee both his arms back.
Will Lautzenheiser, filmmaker and former BU professor, lost all four of his limbs three years ago after a group A streptococcal infection ravaged his body and surgeons amputated the limbs to save his life.
Dr Simon Talbot, from Nelson, will perform the experimental procedure. He is a leading plastic surgeon, and began studying at the University of Auckland School of Medicine before doing his residency through Harvard University.
Dr Talbot announced the double arm transplant at a press conference with Lautzenheiser at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Lautzenheiser, who uses prosthetic arms to eat and dress himself, helped the surgeons explain the procedure by using his stumps to show where they would operate.
The doctors are confident that Lautzenheiser can eventually gain function of his right hand, but they are unsure about his left.
The goal is to give him “a tremendous amount more independence,” Dr Talbot said. “When you don’t have very much, a little is a lot.”
The doctors said it was an experimental procedure that has been performed only a few times in the United States, and they have never performed a transplant so high on the arm.
Brigham doctors performed a double hand transplant in 2011 on Richard Mangino of Revere, who has slowly gained use of his new hands.
Lautzenheiser’s surgery would be more complicated because his left arm is amputated above the elbow.
In arm transplants, nerves grow at a rate of about 1 millimetre per day, said Dr Talbot, making the recovery take longer because the nerves have longer to travel.
Lautzenheiser’s brain would have to make a new connection to the nerves in the donor forearm for it to function.
The surgery would take 12 to 16 hours, Dr Talbot said, and Lautzenheiser would spend one to two weeks in the hospital. Learning to use his new arms could take years.
After he lost his limbs, he became a stand-up comedian to help cope with his loss.
“I keep you on your toes,” Lautzenheiser said to a club audience in a video shown at the press conference, “because I don’t have any.”
Story originally published 27 June on the Boston Globe.