A 54-year-old German farmer who had lost both arms in an accident was given a double full-arm transplant at the Munich Clinic, Germany. A hospital spokesperson said the donor was a teenager who had died before undergoing surgery.

The farmer had lived six years without arms. He had consulted the medical team at Munich University's Rechts der Isar Clinic after failing to successfully use artificial arms (prostheses).

The farmer is said to be recovering well after the 15-hour procedure involving 40 surgeons and health care professionals. Doctors say he will not be able to move his hands for a couple of years. Professor Hans Gunther, Dr. Christoph Hohnke and Prof Edgar Biemer were in charge. Dr. Reiner Gradinger, Medical Director, Munich University Clinic, says the reattachment appears up to now to have proceeded 'optimally'.

According to Edgar Biemer, the surgeon in charge, the most crucial and complicated part of the whole operation was to make sure blood flow was established between the muscles in the new arm and the patient's body - otherwise the arm muscles would soon wither. He added that doctors discussed with the patient that he would have hands 'from somebody else'. The next step is to watch that the patient's body does not reject the new arms. A hospital spokesperson explained that the chances of rejection are higher for limb transplants, compared to organ transplants.

The farmers' network of nerves are expected to expand at a rate of 0.04 inches (one millimeter) per day - eventually when there are enough of them he should be able to start moving his arms and hands. It is a slow process and could take years before he has any sensation in his fingertips, say the doctors.

Christoh Hoehnke described how he was deeply moved when the patient's wife instinctively reached for his hands after the operation. Hoehnke said she described them as looking just like they used to.

Five medical teams worked for 15 hours in two operating theatres, one with the donor and the other with the recipient. They had to expose the blood vessels, nerves and muscles before connecting them. Before cutting through the donor's bones the blood vessels in the arms were injected with a preservation solution. The arms had to be severed at exactly the same point as the recipient's arm stumps - so that the attachment could be a perfect fit. As soon as the donor's arm blood vessels were attached to the recipient's blood vessels the arms 'quickly resumed their rosy color'. The tendons, muscles and nerves were then connected. The procedure ended with the attachment of the skin.

-- Click below to read the press release from Munich University's Rechts der Isar Clinic (in German)
Weltweit erste Transplantation kompletter Arme im Klinikum rechts der Isar der TU München

Munich University's Rechts der Isar Clinic

Written by - Christian Nordqvist