Clint Hallam, on 23 September, 1998, became the recipient of the world’s first hand transplant. His original hand had been lost in a violent accident with a circular saw in 1984 while serving a sentence in prison (Hollingham 160). Clint was chosen by physicians to receive the hand transplant after having little success with his initial hand reconstruction and later prosthetic. The hand came from a deceased motorcyclist and the grueling 14 hour operation took place at the Edouard Herriot Hospital in Lyon, France (Hollingham 158). The surgeons on Hallam’s team were pleased with the results of the operation, but still only estimated a 50/50 long-term success rate for the limb. Even with the hopeful results, there was one major problem that the surgeons failed to consider. Sure, the hand was matched for blood and tissue type, but not for appearance (Hollingham 159). You see, Clint’s upper arm was dark in complexion with a decent amount of hair, while his new hand was a contrasting pale white with very little hair at all (Hollingham 158). Where the two pieces of skin met, a swollen lump had formed and his fingernails were in rough shape. It isn’t much of a surprise that Clint admitted that strangers and close friends alike were finding it difficult to digest the appearance of his hand.
About 18 months after his procedure, Clint started becoming increasingly disappointed by his limb. Not only did he have less mobility in his hand than expected, but he also began feeling like it was not an actual part of him. With the dead man’s hand hacking away at his mental stability, Clint stopped taking the plethora of medications intended to ward off infections, and worst of all, rejection of the transplanted body part (Hollingham 162). Without the medications, his hand began literally rotting off of his arm, and was amputated for good in 2001 by one of the surgeons who had originally helped to attach the hand in the first place. Richard Hollingham, a science journalist and author states in his book, Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery, that surgeons were able to successfully transplant the hand of a deceased person onto a living person, but they failed miserably to consider the psychological challenges that go hand in hand (no pun intended) with transplant situations. No one can say for sure whether or not Clint Hallam’s hand would have survived long-term had he continued taking his prescribed medications.
If That Didn’t Make You Thankful For Modern Medicine Then I Don’t Know What Will!
Until Next Time
Hollingham, Richard. Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery. St. Martin’s Press: New York, 2008.