Pham Van Vuong, 31, woke up at 9 am in the hospital’s quiet recovery room which was carefully quarantined on January 22 (the 28th day of the last lunar month). He had slept for nine hours after his surgical operation.
He looked at the ceiling then his arm. He could feel something is there, with a slight numbness and weight, which he had not felt for years. Now he could felt it, like a miracle that filled him with joy.
Vuong noticed that his arm was not like it was before, now he had a new hand and wrist.
“Looking at my new hand, I was frozen for tens of seconds, and I just want to scream with excitement. I want to call my wife, son and parents to inform them that I have a new hand, I am no longer a one-handed person,” he recalled.
However, he was not allowed to use the phone at that time. He showed a profound gratitude to the uncle who is 20 years older than him and agreed to donate his arm, thereby helping him return to a normal life.
The story now narrated
After the transplant, Vuong could move his fingers by himself. More than one month later, all structures had recovered and the new hand received enough blood similarly to the other. He could use the transplanted hand to hold some things such as ping pong balls.
The transplant of the arm from a living donor was successfully performed by doctors of the Military Central Hospital 108 on January 22 on Pham Van Vuong from Hanoi’s Thanh Tri district. It is the first transplant of limb from a living donor in Southeast Asia and the world as well.
Four years ago, Vuong was a worker of Van Dien Battery Factory based in Khoai Chau district, Hung Yen province.
One day, he had his left hand seriously injured by a punch press. The hand was crushed and deformed.
“I was in a panic when the machine pressed on my hand. I regained my composure only some minutes to call for help as the machine was very loud and people stood far from each other. If I faint without anybody knowing, it would be even more dangerous,” he said.
He could take his arm out only after the machine was disassembled. His colleagues brought the sheet metal with his hand in it to the Military Central Hospital 108 in the afternoon.
He underwent a surgical operation right that evening. His hand was severely crushed and no longer had the ability to restore, so doctors decided to cut off one third of his left arm.
Vuong was discharged from the hospital two weeks later yet felt sad and disheartened.
Afterward, he faced various difficulties in his life and work. Sometimes he could not help but feeling hurt when his son asked why he does not have the left hand. He did not answer and just let it slide. The loss of his hand at a young age lowers his self-esteem.
In 2016, he was encouraged to register in the list of people waiting for hand transplant.
A decision of mettle
Holding a ping pong ball to practice, extending then bending his fingers, his hand had slight fits sometimes. He smiled and said that it is a normal reaction of the hand, according to doctors.
For him, this is the second surprise and it is wonderful.
“A couple of months ago, I received a call as a family of a brain-dead person agreeing to donate a hand. I came to the hospital for necessary procedures. However, they changed their mind and the transplant could not be carried out. I returned home hopelessly,” Vuong remembered.
On the evening of the 26th day of the last lunar month, Deputy Director of the Military Central Hospital 108 Prof. Nguyen The Hoang phoned Vuong, informing him there was a donor and the two were very compatible.
The donor was a 51-year-old man with a complicated injury on January 3. He suffered an accident which damaged the upper part of his left arm and it must be severed in order to save his life.
The doctors realised that the lower part of the severed hand remained intact and might be suitable for another person. The patient himself and his family gave their consent.
They had the same blood type and were very compatible, the hospital’s council on medical ethics also green-lit the transplant.
It was a decision of mettle as doctors had to bear a great responsibility. If chances of infection were high, the operation must be stopped and the hand would be cut off immediately to save the patient. The operation lasted eight hours with the participation of nearly 20 personnel.
The transplant was conducted smoothly and the patient did not have a fever after one month. There was a group working round the clock to keep an eye on his condition.
The part donated by a living person may get infected or necrosis more quickly than that of a brain-dead person, as there is a shorter time for preparation.
Opening new chances for patients
Hand transplant is more difficult than others as there are 43 muscles in forearm and hand, with complex structures of skin, pulses, muscles, joints, cartilages and nerve, Prof. Hoang said.
Compared to normal transplants, the patient has to take various types of medicine.
This is the first ever hand transplant from a living donor, performed from experiences of just 89 previous cases throughout the world. It demonstrated Vietnam’s high scientific and technological levels, Khanh added.
Previously, the severed body parts would be buried or burnt, while they could be given to other people. The donor of Vuong’s hand is now in the waiting list for hand transplant himself.
Therefore, the success has opened opportunities for many patients who have their hand amputated because of accidents and wars.
One month after the transplant, Vuong could move his left hand conveniently. With both hands grabbing the microphone tightly at a press briefing, he said that it is such as miracle he never thought of.
“I would like to extend my gratitude to doctors of the Military Central Hospital 108, the donor and his family. They are the ones who help my left hand move and hold things again”, Vuong said./.