Hand Transplant: Indian amputee’s Incredible Story

Even though the donor hands were huge, dark, and hairy, and had originally belonged to a man, Shreya Siddanagowder didn’t hesitate to accept them. Sh ewas happy.

“The donor was a tall man with big spindly fingers,” Siddanagowder’s mother, told AFP over the phone from their home in Pune, western India.

“Now nobody can make out that they are a man’s hands… She has even started wearing jewellery and nail varnish.”

Siddanagowder’s life was turned upside down in 2016 when, aged 18, she was involved in a bus accident that crushed both her arms.

A delay in getting first aid meant that both her hands had to be amputated below the elbow.

Only 200 successful hand transplants have taken place worldwide—including nine in India—since the first in the United States in 1999 on a man whose left left lower had been blown off by a firework.

Looking For A Donor

In India, the first hand transplant was done in 2015 at the Amrita Institute of Medical Science (AIMS) in Kerala, where Siddanagowder’s family had taken her.

The most difficult part was finding a donor. Indian families are generally hesitant to allow their loved ones’ hands to be made available after their death for cultural reasons.

Amrita Institute of Medical Science (AIMS) in Kerala,India.

Subramania Iyer, a member of the team of doctors who operated on Siddanagowder, said, “Usually you have to wait for a long period.”

As a result, patients in need of a transplant “are so desperate that it doesn’t matter if the hands are from a different gender,” according to Iyer, a reconstructive surgery specialist.

In August 2017, the hospital was able to get a pair of hands from a man. Siddanagowder and her family were gracious enough to accept.

The bones of the donor hands were joined first, then the tendons, blood arteries, and skin were meticulously stitched together.

She needed more than a year of physiotherapy after the transplant to help her body and brain adjust to the new hands and regain mobility and sensation.

In Physiotherapy

Siddanagowder’s hands rapidly began to show “a lot of change,” according to Iyer, but it’s tough to define why.

“MSH, a brain-controlled hormone that increases melanin formation, could be responsible. We’re curious if MSH levels have any effect on skin color.”

Melanin is a naturally occurring pigment that gives skin, hair, and eyes their color.

Dr. Shehla Agarwal, a prominent dermatologist in New Delhi, believes that the lack of testosterone explains why the hands have become less hairy, but that other hormonal changes could also account for the change in color.

Before and after pictures of her hands after the transplant

She did, however, mention some other possible variables.

“In comparison to the woman, the donor male may have been exposed to greater sunlight and physical activity,” Agarwal told AFP.

Shreya, on the other hand, is ecstatic with the change—she even wrote her recent college exam with her new hands.

“We all feel very happy for her,” said Iyer. “The best moment was when she sent me a hand-written note on my birthday. I could not have asked for a better birthday gift.”

2 thoughts on “Hand Transplant: Indian amputee’s Incredible Story

  • June 14, 2022 at 1:36 pm
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    Hi,

    One of my nephews is facing the same problem. He was born without a left arm. Is it possible to do the transplant for his left arm?.
    Please confirm, what is the procedure and how much price they will charge.

    Reply
    • June 17, 2022 at 6:32 am
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      That would be a really interesting case if he was lucky enough to receive a transplant. Having never had a left arm before, I wonder if he would be able to use it? His brain never developed the nerve pathway to control a second limb. It would be somewhat similar to a two armed person getting a third arm.

      Obviously the brain is a remarkable organ and has incredible abilities to change and adapt to new situations. I’m sure he would eventually be able to control it, at least to some degree. But I’d still be very interested to see how difficult it would be compared to a regular transplant. Really, it is remarkable that anybody can control any kind transplant.

      As to your question though, the big problem will be finding a donor. Finding a donor for any body part is already difficult. An entire arm will be exponentially more so. And then, because he has already lived his entire life without said arm, he will certainly be far less prioritized compared to people that have lost their arm(s). As for price, it will be very, very expensive. Several hundreds of thousands of dollars. It will vary depending on where you live, where you get the procedure done, and his specific circumstances (like what exactly is there of his arm currently, any other possible medical complications).

      And even after the lengthy process of getting the arms attached, you are not out of the woods yet. There is a chance that his body will reject the arm. This can be dangerous and potentially life threatening. Still though, he will have to take anti rejection drugs for the rest of his life. These are again expensive, and have their own side effects. Essentially the are immunosuppressives which, obviously, suppress the immune system. And let’s say that everything was a complete 100% success, it will almost certainly not last his entire life. The anti-rejection drugs do indeed help, but they don’t completely stop the body from attacking that arm. Slowly, it will start to die. It may take 10 years, 20 years, or even longer, but it will fail eventually.

      Most doctors will likely try to talk him out of the procedure. It is risky and expensive. He never lost his arm, so he presumably has adapted to his life pretty well as a one armed person. I doubt their is much he can’t do that any “regular” person could. How much better would his life become by getting a second arm? Is it worth all the risks? Any psychological problems he may face would be better tackled with a prosthesis. DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor. I have no formal training in the medical field. I have just read and watched a lot on transplants as the subject fascinates me.

      Reply

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