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Farmer from Paraíba has his left hand replanted on his right arm in Recife; doctors say surgery is unprecedented in the country

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At 9:30 pm on Wednesday, the medical team released the bulletin about the results of Damião’s surgery. According to Hospital SOS Mão, his health “is stable”.

“The transplant lasted 14 hours. The medical team responsible for the surgery is closely monitoring and maintaining constant surveillance in these early postoperative hours,” the statement said.

For the medical team, the farmer’s story marks a fresh start that was made possible by advances in science.

Until the transplant, Damião depended on help for almost everything. He always had a family member close by. He lost his right hand in an accident at a cattle feed mill.

At the time, he worked on a farm in the municipality of Monteiro, in the interior of Paraíba, where he lives. “I went and touched it, without having any experience, and it caught. Me with a glove. Then he grabbed my fingers and when he grabbed it, he pulled,” he said.

The man, who is right-handed, had to learn to do everything with the other hand. But last year, he was in a car accident. His ear was ripped off, he broke his shoulder bone, and he lost movement in his left arm and one hand. He was hospitalized for 28 days.

“I was not very well. I could see that I wasn’t doing very well. We escape, because God is more. But I was disappointed. The doctor already thought I couldn’t escape. I didn’t move at all, all swollen up, I didn’t even get out of bed,” he said.

Damião Bezerra lost had his left hand replanted on his right arm — Photo: Reproduction/TV Globo

At the hospital in Campina Grande, in Paraíba, he underwent ear and shoulder surgeries. But he was unable to regain movement in his left arm and hand. He was already hopeless until a doctor suggested that he look for a surgeon from Pernambuco, a specialist in hands.

Damião was impressed with the doctor’s suggestion and accepted. “He will take his left hand and put it here [na direita]. I’m trying to get there and I’ll see that everything will be ok. I am confident it will work,” she said, before the procedure.

The procedure was performed free of charge for the patient, with all expenses covered by Instituto SOS Mãos.

Hand reimplantation surgery in the patient’s other arm was performed in Recife — Photo: Reproduction/WhatsApp

The farmer couldn’t wait to feel independent again. To start over. To relearn how to live. “I had a hard time when I lost that hand to learn from this one and I’ll have to learn it again. Let’s just say I’m going to spend my life learning right?” he said.

The family supports the decision. “Or all or nothing, right? Is it not accomplished? But God is in charge. First God, according to the doctor”, said Damião’s sister, Cláudia Valdenio Melo Silva.

After the decision was made, Damião traveled the 320 kilometers from Paraíba to Recife to undergo the procedure. Then he’ll get a chance to go back to doing simple everyday activities like brushing his teeth by himself again.

Seven surgeries like this have been performed to date in the world. The first one in Brazil was led by doctors Rui Ferreira and Mauri Cortez. The procedure only took place because the patient’s left hand had muscles that were still alive.

The hand did not move, because the nerves in the arm, which carry the movement information, were injured. It is the opposite of the other side, which despite not having a right hand, the nerves and other structures of the arm were preserved.

In accordance with the transplant plan, the left hand was removed and placed on the right arm. The thumb was on the other side.

To hold and support the hand, surgical steel wires were used. Then a series of small connections began.

Surgeon Rui Ferreira giving an interview — Photo: Reproduction/TV Globo

Doctors ligated veins and arteries, to transport the blood to the hand. And nerves, which connect tendons and bones.

“He had an amputation 30 years ago, but he has movement, he has sensitivity and he is going to have this hand transplant, which is unprecedented in Brazil,” said hand surgeon Rui Ferreira, in an interview with TV Globobefore starting the surgery.

The team was very optimistic. “Worldwide, reimplantation has a 98% chance of being normal. After the tendons have healed, around three weeks, he will have to let go. And the fine movements, he will have when the muscles inside the hand start to recover with the nerves that are going to be mended”, highlighted the specialist.

The doctor and hand surgeon Mauri Cortez — Photo: Reproduction/TV Globo

A hand transplant from a person who died was ruled out because of the high risk of rejection. And the use of prosthesis, which can cost R$ 100 thousand, was not indicated for this case.

“The prosthesis does not fully replace the limb he had before. It doesn’t have sensitivity, it doesn’t have the exact strength that the hand normally has,” said doctor and hand surgeon Mauri Cortez.

And although it seems strange, leaving the thumb in the reverse position is recommended. “That’s not much of a problem. When we go to connect the nerves, it’s like an electrical device. It will connect yellow wire to yellow, red to red, blue to blue, for everything to work out and work as it does on the other hand”, said Mauri Cortez.

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