Rick Thompson had all of his limbs amputated after contracting bacterial meningitis and septic shock in 2015. (The Canadian Press)

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

When Rick Thompson’s doctor told him a surgical team was going ahead with his double-hand transplant in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, his first reaction was surprise.

“We’re targeting August, maybe early September,” he said in a recent interview.

“I was even shocked when (the doctor) told me. I met him last week and I asked him for a ballpark time frame. And he said August, and I said ‘Oh, OK.’ I wasn’t quite ready for that.”

Thompson moved to Ontario from B.C. in April to prepare for the surgery in London. It involves medical and psychological tests, as well as finding a donor.

If things go as planned, Thompson will be Canada’s first double-hand transplant patient.

Thompson had all of his limbs amputated after contracting bacterial meningitis and septic shock in 2015.

He left work early one day in May, after feeling like he was coming down with the flu, and decided to sleep it off. A few hours later, he woke up to get a drink of water.

“But when I stood up my feet were like on fire. I could barely walk. I made it downstairs to where my wife Rita was watching TV. And that’s pretty well the last thing I remember. I just collapsed on the floor.”

He woke up six weeks later in intensive care, confronted with the choice of dying in palliative care or amputation.

“If I wanted to survive, I would need all four limbs amputated,” he said.

“In the end, the will to live is stronger than anything else.”

After 8 1/2 hours of surgery, doctors had amputated his limbs.

“That was a difficult time, obviously, because you know, you wake up as a different person. You look down and all you see is bandages … where your hands used to be or where your legs and feet used to be,” he said.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, what did I just do?”

After learning about hand transplants two years ago, Thompson met with a team of doctors in Ontario to assess whether he would make a suitable candidate.

“It’s life changing,” he said.

“Being able to shake someone’s hand, being able to pick up a cup of coffee with one hand, write your name with a pen, open a door, you know, just the things that we take for granted every day.”

Dr. Steven McCabe, who performed Canada’s first hand transplant, may participate in the surgery. He is a hand surgeon at Toronto Western Hospital and an associate professor at the University of Toronto.

The surgery can take 10 to 12 hours with four teams of surgeons. Each team consists of six to 10 people.

While operating on both hands makes the surgery logistically harder because it involves more people, McCabe said it is “logical” to do the two transplants at the same time.

“When you transplant, you’re introducing this different tissue,” he explained. “And the theory behind that is that you don’t want to introduce two different donor tissues.”

A person who undergoes a transplant has to take immunosuppressants, so the body doesn’t reject the new organ or limb, and it’s easier when surgery is done all at once, he said.

“So if you transplanted one limb, and then three months or a year later, the other one, you’d have to go through that again. The idea is to get that all over with one donor.”

But there’s also another reason.

“Having one hand when you have none is a huge benefit,” McCabe said.

“But if you’re going to have that type of surgery, and it seems logical to transplant both hands, part of the sense of wholeness is restored. It seems to be very important for patients.”

There are risks associated with the surgery, including infections and the possibility of blood loss. But McCabe said the benefits outweigh the risks, and limb transplants have low rejection rates.

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery, he added.

“If you transplant the limb near the elbow, it will take a few months for the muscles to start to work again, and maybe up to a year or more for the nerves to get down to the fingers to have some feeling,” McCabe said. “So, I think we would say, you can’t judge whether it’s really helped or not for at least a couple years.”

Thompson said unlike most organ transplants, a hand transplant is visible.

“It’s physically there. So getting over the mental challenge is going to be the hardest one, because you know they belonged to someone else at one point and now they’re on your body,” Thompson said.

“You have to look at it as a gift … (the donor) family has decided to give you this gift. And it’s a gift I’m not going to waste.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jennifer Rice BC NDP North Coast Incumbent was re-elected for a third according to the preliminary results on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Jennifer Rice is North Coast MLA for third term

Preliminary election results show NDP Majority government

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

Subsea fibre optics running from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii and and then south to Vancouver will improve high-speed internet connection options for Coastal Communities, CityWest said on Oct. 13.
Subsea fibre optics running from north of Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii and and then south to Vancouver will improve high-speed internet connection options for Coastal communities, CityWest said on Oct. 13. (Black Press Media)
CityWest to refresh subsea fibre optics project

Fibre optics project to run cable from north of Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii then south to Vancouver

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Most Read