Double Arm Transplant Recipient Gives Thanks

November 25, 2014 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Double arm transplant recipient Will Lautzenheiser demonstrates what he can do with his new arms.

Befitting the spirit of this week’s holiday, today’s story exemplifies both gratitude and giving.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) announced at a press conference today that Will Lautzenheiser, 40, a former professor of film production and screenwriting at Boston University and Montana State University, is the recipient of a bilateral (double) arm transplant. Last month, a team of 35 clinicians, including 13 surgeons, worked for nearly nine hours to transplant a donor’s arms – above the elbow on his left side and below the elbow on his right side. The team precisely joined bones, arteries, muscles, tendons, veins, and nerves of the donor’s arms together with Will’s.

Will became a quadruple amputee in 2011when doctors in Montana removed his limbs to save his life, which was in jeopardy due to necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease), a life-threatening Group A streptococcal infection. Since that time, Will has struggled to manage with prosthetic (artificial) limbs. With his transplanted arms, however, Will expects to be able to perform everyday tasks quicker and without the aid of others, and to gradually regain his sense of touch.

Recovery

Will’s post-transplant recovery has gone well thus far. He has started to feel sensation near his joint and developed movement in his wrists, forearms, a thumb, and an elbow.

Will acknowledged that he’s also curious about the prospect of leg transplantation, but is focused now on rehabilitating his arms. He’s motivated by important goals, such as hugging his partner, Angel, and his niece, and returning to teaching and filmmaking. His recovery, however, will take time. It is expected that he will have to participate in physical and occupational therapy over the next year to help him gradually build the ability to use his new arms effectively. He also will be required to take immunosuppressive medications to help prevent rejection.

The Gift

Richard Luskin, President and CEO of New England Organ Bank (NEOB), whose organization worked diligently to find an appropriate donor for Will, stresses that Will’s procedure wouldn’t have occurred without the kindness and generosity of the donor’s family. The family offered the following message to Will:

“Our son gave the best hugs. We pray that you make a wonderful recovery and that your loved ones will be able to enjoy your warm embrace.”

Will recognizes the magnitude of their gift and says that the donor and his family will always be in his thoughts. “This person who is anonymous to me will always be as close to me as my own skin,” says Will. “It’s really an incredible gift.”

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.- Chris P.

 

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