Musings of a Hand Transplant Recipient

Shreya Siddanagowder


I was fumbling with my prosthetic hand, trying unsuccessfully to brush my teeth. After dropping my brush for the ninth time in my failed attempts with my unwieldy prosthetic arms, I cried out in frustration, “It would have been better if I had died in the bus accident.” I could see the hurt and pain on my mother’s face hearing my bitter remark but all she quietly said was, “Being alive is truly a blessing and honestly, I’ll always be grateful to see my daughter alive, despite the fact that she lost both her forearms in the accident.”

My mother has an unparalleled sense of optimism and it was this very optimism of hers that made me believe in the possibility that one day I will get a bilateral hand transplant and brush my teeth without dropping my brush umpteen number of times. I decided to undergo hand transplant as my prosthetic hands were a huge disappointment and I could not picture myself using them for the rest of my life.

Almost one year after the accident, I finally underwent a bilateral above elbow hand transplantation. Even though I was the first female in the world to receive male hands, I had no apprehensions at all, as all I wanted was to have hands again, to be independent again and to feel complete again. Yes, I had to undergo intensive rehabilitation to gain functionality in my new hands and I had to make the commitment of taking immunosuppressants for the rest of my life but today it all feels worth it.

To be honest, there have been a few instances during therapy when I used to feel dejected and demotivated when I could not get the desired results. In retrospect, those were the days that challenged me and pushed me to work harder. Those were the times that helped me realise how resilient I am.

It has been three years since I received the gift of new arms. Today, I not only can brush my teeth without any fiascos, I am able to do most of my day to day activities without anybody’s help. I can bathe, dress myself, eat, cook and I have written all my semester exams by myself. In fact, my handwriting matches my previous handwriting. This clearly shows that our body can tolerate almost anything, it is the mind that we have to convince.

Having a transplant can truly be a life changing experience. Personally, it has taught me patience, courage, determination and resilience. All of this has been possible due to the donation of those hands by a family that was brave at the time of their loss and could look beyond their grief to help someone else. This has given me a second shot at life.

Seeing my hands for the first time after the surgery is the best moment I’ve ever experienced in the 22 years of my life. Yes, undergoing a transplant is messy, complicated, and frustrating but the post-transplant experience is amazing, wonderful and above everything else it feels epic as I get to see my miracle every day.

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