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Medical Marvel: Icelandic man recovers from double arm and shoulder transplant

[July 22, 2021: Josh Shavit]

Felix Gretarsson, 49, is recovering well after undergoing the world's first double arm and shoulder transplant in January - CREDIT: Felix Gretarsson

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.

The historic 15-hour transplant was carried out at the Edouard-Herriot hospital in Lyon, France in January this year by teams from five hospitals.

CREDIT: Felix Gretarsson

They were originally uncertain how much mobility Mr Felix Gretarsson, 48, would eventually recover following the operation.

"Giving a little to somebody who was missing so much, that's already a lot", Dr Aram Gazarian, the lead surgeon in the operation, told a news conference.


Why did he lose his arms?

On Jan 12, 1998, Mr 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. Doctors placed him in a three-month-long coma and carried out 54 operations, including a liver transplant and removing his badly burned arms.

The operation was "his biggest dream", Mr Gretarsson's wife Sylwia said in January's news conference, 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.

Felix Gretarsson and his medical team - CREDIT: Felix Gretarsson

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


Moving forward with optimism

Six months on from the enormous procedure, with hundreds of hours of rehabilitation work under his belt, Gretarsson can flex his bicep - something Dr Aram Gazarian had said would be a 'life-changer' if he was able to achieve.

Felix Gretarsson undergoing mobility testing - CREDIT: Felix Gretarsson

Talking about his progress to date, Gretarsson said "I am moving the elbow in water, my bicep is now working and that's only five months after."

"I just noticed the veins in my arms are starting to expand in the heat and that doesn't happen unless the automatic nervous system is working."

"I am so hopeful that I am going to be able to move my hands as well which nobody expected - except me."

Now, Gretarsson's goal is to be able to hug his wife and children for the first time in decades, and to hold his grandchildren for the very first time.

For more good news stories check out our Good News section at The Brighter Side of News.


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