The world's first double-leg transplant took place in Valencia in Spain this week, when a team led by recostructive surgeon Pedro Cavadas started the procedure late on Sunday evening and finished on Monday morning.

Neither the Spanish health authorities nor Cavadas were prepared to give many details yesterday as they wanted to wait and see how the patient progresses in the first 48 hours.

Officials told the press it will be a month before the surgeons will know if the operation was a success, and in the meantime, the priority is to monitor how well the nerves and muscles perform.

Cavadas told the Spanish press that the patient, who has not been named, is a young male accident victim whose legs were injured above the knees, so artificial legs were not a viable solution.

"The only solution to enable him to get out of the wheelchair is the transplant," said Cavadas, the patient knew the risks and wanted to go ahead, he added.

The transplant was a collaboration between Spain's National Transplant Organization, professionals from Cavadas' own Foundation, and the autonomous government of Valencia.

The Spanish health authorities said the operation was "highly complex", and without precedent worldwide.

Rafael Matesanz, director of Spain's National Transplant Organization, congratulated Cavadas and his team and told the press the patient now faces a "very hard" rehabilitation period that will last months, or even years.

The rehabilitation process will be similar to that of arm transplants, except that in this case, the limbs have to support the weight of the body, explained Matesanz.

The main objective will be to help the patient walk again. "That's what we are hoping", said Matesanz, otherwise "we would not have carried out the intervention". The reason for the operation was to help the patient avoid having to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he added.

Cavadas carried out Spain's first, and the world's second, double arm transplant in October 2008. And in 2009 he performed Spain's first face transplant, the eighth in the world, but the first to include the tongue and the lower jaw bone.

Spain's health minister, Leire Pajín, also congratulated Cavadas and his team, and the Valencian health authorities, for the "success" that the operation signifies for the Spanish transplant system.

Cavadas and his team specialize in reconstructive surgery for patients that require complex surgical intervention, especially where it involves microsurgery.

Main source: www.lne.es (Spain)

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD