Vietnam performs world’s first living donor hand transplant

By Le Nga   February 24, 2020 | 05:57 pm PT
Vietnam performs world’s first living donor hand transplant
Doctors at Hanoi's Military Hospital 108 checks the hands of Pham Van Vuong one month after he received a transplanted left hand, February 24, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Khanh.
A Hanoi hospital has successfully transplanted a hand from one living human to another in the first such instance anywhere in the world.

The capital city’s Military Hospital 108 announced Monday that it has given a local man, Pham Van Vuong, 31, a new left hand after he had lost it four years ago in an occupational accident.

The hand was donated to Vuong by a living man, who was himself admitted to the hospital on January 3 after his arm was crushed by a brick conveyor.

In the following three weeks of treatment, the wounded man received three surgeries, but doctors could not save the arm as the elbow area and several muscles had become infected and gangrened. The only way to save his life was amputation of the entire arm.

But the hospital also assessed that a part of the injured arm, including the hand, had not been damaged and could still be used for transplantation.

After discussing the issue with doctors, the injured man and his family agreed to donate a part of his arm to Vuong.

Nguyen The Hoang, the hospital’s deputy director, and the team at the upper limb surgery and microsurgery department carried out the operation to transplant the hand on January 21.

The surgery lasted eight hours and was described as "stressful," as the donor’s arm had been infected with gangrene and suffered secondary super-infection, posing a high risk of infection for the donated hand.

"Transplanting hands is much harder than other organs because they have lots of structure, tendons, muscles and joints," Hoang said.

The task was made more difficult by the fact that Vuong had lost his hand since 2016 and the muscles around the wrist had not been used for a long time.

But there was also a stroke of luck, which was that the two patients shared many similarities, from their blood types to some aspects of the immune system.

Speaking about the surgery officially for the first time on Monday, the hospital’s director, Mai Hong Bang, said: "The hospital has successfully transplanted a hand from one human to another. This is the first hand transplant from a living donor in the world."

Pham Van Vuong holds a ping pong ball in his transplanted left arm at the Military Hospital 108 on February 24, 2020. Photo by the Vietnam News Agency

Pham Van Vuong holds a ping pong ball in both hands as he convalesces with his transplanted left hand at the Military Hospital 108, Hanoi, on February 24, 2020. Photo by the Vietnam News Agency.

So far all the veins in the transplanted hand have been functioning like a normal one. Shortly after the transplantation, Vuong was able to move the fingers of his new hand, doctor Hoang said.

More than a month after the surgery, he can hold objects. It is estimated that it will take him six-12 months of practice to use the hand like a normal person. However, Vuong will have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life, with the dose reducing gradually over time.

"When I opened my eyes and saw that I have got a new hand, I was so happy. I wanted to tell my family right away, but could not use a phone then," he said.

According to the hospital, there have only been 89 cases of limb transplantation officially reported in the world so far, including 24 in the U.S., 13 in China and 11 in France, but none have so far involved a hand donated by a living, aware human being.

go to top