Yesterday I saw a news segment featuring the country's first double hand transplant recipient. I am astounded at the feats of medical technology. The man and his family seemed thrilled with the surgery as his surgeon spoke the normal, yet very true, medical risk "jargon." The segment got me to thinking, if I was offered the opportunity to receive a leg transplant, would I accept?
My first instinct is to say yes, I would love to receive a leg transplant. The thought of being able to walk without a prosthetic excites me. To be able to feel the ground and earth with a "real" foot, hot and cold and to not be considered disabled are all reasons for the surgery.
This was a fleeting thought though, because upon reflection I would have to say that I would not want the surgery. I know first hand the risks and medical complications caused by the anti-rejection medications that were vaguely alluded to by the surgeon on the news. For me, these health implications are not worth the trade of not having to wear a prosthetic.
My step-brother Christopher received a lung transplant. Although the transplant was successful and he was able to breathe freely for the first time in his life, the medications were both confining and disabling in their own right. He had to be vigilant of infection and rejection. He had a weakened immune system and relied upon an arsenal of medication to stay healthy. He has since passed away. Although the transplant was deemed successful, I have no doubt that the medications he depended upon contributed to his untimely death.
Christopher had no choice but to receive his transplant. In my hypothetical question, I would have a choice. I would not need a leg transplant out of medical necessity but out of a desire to live without an amputation.
When I first had my amputation, I suspect I would have jumped at the opportunity to receive a leg transplant. I would have gladly assumed the risk of the anti-rejection regiment without much pause if I could walk with a "real" leg. I would have had the surgery out of fear of living as an amputee.
I learned that my amputation has changed my life but has not ended my life. I'm not sure you could have convinced me of this when I lost my leg. Living as an amputee for the past five years, I have learned to adjust.
For me, the transplant wouldn't be worth the risk of a lifetime of medication and further surgeries. I am functioning well as an amputee. I fear that the transplant would leave me with more issues. I don't have the luxury of time to recover and to participate in physical therapy. The risk of increased nerve damage, infection and subsequent surgeries just isn't worth the benefit at this stage in my life.
I have a little boy to take care of and he depends upon me. I am not at a stage where I can take a risk that could have significant, or even life shortening, consequences. Being able to take care of my family trumps my desire to have a "real" foot.
I can see how a limb transplant would be a choice made by some individuals. I am a below-knee amputee. I am low on the totem pole of amputee issues. Hand transplants would certainly be able to affect more positive change in somebody's life and may be worth the risks of medication. I cannot answer the "what if I lost a hand" question because I know I cannot begin to relate to the issues pertaining to that type of amputation.
It is wonderful that limb transplants are progressing and improving. Additional options that are becoming available can only benefit patients. Surgeons learn vast amounts about limbs through the transplant process. I am sure this knowledge is be applied towards saving and rehabilitating damaged limbs, thwarting the necessity for amputation. This is a good thing for everybody!