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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

Icelandic man recovering well from world's first double shoulder and arm transplant

Felix Gretarsson's wife says the operation was his 'biggest dream' after losing his arms 20 years ago

An Icelandic man who received 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.

On Friday, doctors said it was still uncertain how much mobility Felix Gretarsson, 48, will eventually recover following the operation this month in the French city of Lyon, AFP reported.

But "giving a little to somebody who was missing so much, that's already a lot", said Aram Gazarian, lead surgeon in the operation.

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

Felix Gretarsson lost both of his arms after an accident while working on a power line. Felix Gretarsson
Felix Gretarsson lost both of his arms after an accident while working on a power line. Felix Gretarsson

On January 12, 1998, Mr Gretarsson, an electrician, was working on a power line when an 11,000-volt surge burnt his hands and he fell to the icy ground.

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

He underwent several more operations, including two liver transplants, his website said.

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

The operation was "his biggest dream", Mr Gretarsson's wife Sylwia said on Friday.

She said she never felt that the operation was truly necessary because her husband "wasn't missing anything".

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

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

Doctors said there was a better chance the right arm would become functional than the left, which also required a complete rebuild of the shoulder.

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

Mr Gretarsson, a father of two, seemed visibly pleased with the outcome during a short video filmed at his hospital bed.

"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 will spend years trying to rediscover how to use his limbs, "but we will support him all his life", Mr Badet said.

Updated: January 23, 2021 10:03 PM

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