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Baking cakes, kneading bread, holding his niece and caressing his man are some of the things Will Lautzenheiser says he longs to do again with his own two hands.
"These things were therapy for me," said the former professor, who taught screenwriting at Boston University and film production at Montana State University. "Just feeling something with this new set of hands will be incredible."
Recently approved for a bilateral arm transplant at BWH, Lautzenheiser became a quadruple amputee in 2011 following a life-threatening streptococcal (strep) infection. His physicians in Montana had to amputate all four limbs in order to save his life.
But the 40-year-old hasn't let his misfortune get him down. He said while it can be a struggle to get out of bed some days, he continues to stay positive.
"I would never have anticipated how I possibly could have responded to losing my limbs," said Lautzenheiser, adding that he is also considering a double leg transplant at some point. "The potential opportunity to get something back, which would radically change my life again, is incredible."
During a June 26 press conference in BWH's Shapiro Breakout Room, Lautzenheiser joined Bohdan Pomahac, MD, director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation, and Simon G. Talbot, MD, director of Upper Extremity Transplantation, to discuss his story and the transplant process for local media. The New England Organ Bank is actively working to identify a donor.
Pomahac and Talbot explained that once a donor is identified, surgeons will transplant one arm below Lautzenheiser's elbow and one above, based on where the amputations took place. They expect the forearm transplant to have good function of the hand itself, but it is not yet known how much function his above-elbow transplant will gain. Lautzenheiser's physicians are hopeful that his new arms will dramatically improve his quality of life.
From left: Bohdan Pomahac, Will Lautzenheiser and Simon Talbot
"When you don't have very much, a little is a lot," Talbot said.
There are many factors the organ bank has to consider when matching a donor for Lautzenheiser, including blood type, antibody compatibility and the size of the donor in relation to the recipient.
For Lautzenheiser to be approved for the surgery, he had to go through months of evaluations and testing. He also had a chance to meet double hand transplant recipient Richard Mangino, of Revere, and learn about his life after the transplant, which was performed at BWH in 2011.
Pomahac said he is looking forward to the day when he can shake Lautzenheiser's hand. "What we are hoping to provide is independence--something no prosthesis can really achieve at the present time."
Lautzenheiser said he's nervous about the surgery and recovery, and will rely on his family and friends to help him through the process. He thanked organ donors and their families for saving lives every day and hopes to be an organ donor one day.
"I'm so grateful to be working with this incredible team," he said. "I hope the future will be a good one on account of what they are doing."