The 54-year-old Chiropractor from Oklahoma suffered 30% deep tissue burns to his body when his truck became engulfed in flames when overcome by a brush fire. He suffered severe burns to his hands, arms, back and face. His hands were so badly burned that, despite multiple reconstructive surgeries and skin grafts, he had very little tissue left. His hands were almost completely useless and he required full-time help to carry out daily life.
However, on August 24th 2010, Dr.Edwards received a pioneering operation to transplant donor hands at the Jewish Hospital Hand Care Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
Dr.Warren Breidenbach led a surgical team throughout the 18-hour surgery. Unusually, the medical team ‘tweeted’ their progress on Twitter (@jewishhospital) as they first amputated Dr. Edwards’ burned and deformed hands and then transplanted the donor hands.
This was a hugely complicated procedure. Hands have 54 bones, 56 muscles and countless nervesand blood vessels that all require correct connections to enable them to function properly.
Even when the operation was successfully completed, it wasn’t known whether Dr.Edwards’ new hands would be rejected by his body. A strict regimen of anti-rejection medication, including steroids, combined with intensive physical therapy will be ongoing in order to help Dr.Edwards’ new hands develop the fine motor skills that we all take for granted.
Today, Dr.Edwards’ left hand continues to show improvement and he is able to move his wrist and each of his fingers. His physical therapy has enabled him to almost make a fist with his left hand. However, he has had complications with blood flow to his right hand that has required further surgeries.
Whether this setback to his right hand will prevent him attaining the same functionality as his left hand is yet to be seen. Dr. Breidenbach and his surgical team are hopeful that no further surgery will be required for at least a year.
There have been 60 single hand transplants around the world since 1998 but the shortage of donors is a significant problem. However, the rapid advancement of stem cell research may mean that in years to come we will be able to grow our own replacement organs and limbs.
In the meantime, we all hope Dr.Edwards continues to make good progress and that his quality of life continues to improve.