Hand Transplant Recipient: 'This is Like Science Fiction'

Pennyslvania father lost both hands in a tractor acccident.

March 15, 2010— -- A Harrisburg, Pa., man who lost both hands in a farming accident is now recovering after having become the first man in U.S. history to get a transplanted arm and forearm.

"You know, this is like science fiction," Chris Pollock, a mechanic and National Guardsman, said on "Good Morning America." "This is, like, 20 years ago ... this was only thought of, and now it's for real."

Pollock was out picking corn late in 2008 when the tractor he was riding malfunctioned. The 41-year-old father of twins stopped to take a look and his coat got caught in the machine's rollers, dragging his left hand in.

"I reached over with my right hand and tried to pull out my left hand and it got caught. I thought, 'God, just let me die,'" he recalled.

After about 30 minutes, a neighbor heard Pollock's screams and called for help. Pollock was airlifted to Hershey Medical Center.

He was fitted with prosthetic hands, but could not feel his children's touch.

Then, one day, he read an article about the opportunity to receive a hand transplant through the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and he applied.

But finding a perfect match takes more than just the right blood type. The perfect match needed to come from a man with the same sized hands and skin color. On his right side, Pollack needed a new elbow and forearm in addition to a hand.

Eleven Hours in Surgery

For Pollock, though, his breakthrough came only two months after he applied -- a little over a year after his accident.

He got a late-night phone call notifying him that donor hands had been found. The very next morning -- Feb. 5 -- he was in surgery.

Twenty-one surgeons working on four operating tables began the transplant. First, they removed his arm below the right elbow because it was damaged, replacing it with a new elbow and forearm.

Then, on to the left arm, and a complex series of procedures requiring the precise and painstaking connection of bones, tendons, nerves and arteries.

Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, head of the hospital's plastic and reconstructive surgery division, said the medical team experienced a moment of "relief and joy" when blood started flowing for the first time to the transplanted hand and the previously pale tissues turned pink.

Prognosis and Rejection Risk

Pollock is the second person in U.S. history to have had a double hand transplant, and the first to have had an entire forearm replaced.

The first double hand transplant recipient is Jeff Kepner, a Georgia man whose surgery was performed at the UPMC in May 2009.

Like Kepner, Pollock will face intense physical therapy.

The nerves in Pollock's fingertips should regenerate in about six to nine months, and he is expected to have feeling in his hands in two years, Lee said.

Hand transplantation surgery is relatively new in the United States. Patients normally must take three drugs to prevent a rejection of the transplanted limb. Those drugs could increase the possibility of future infection.

Pollock's case is different. He's being treated with an experimental drug regimen known as the Pittsburgh Protocol, which aims to reduce the risk associated with toxic anti-rejection drugs. Under this therapy, Pollock takes only one drug.

Worth the Cost?

The half-million-dollar surgery is controversial. Some wonder whether the cost is justified for a procedure that's not life-saving.

Josh Maloney said he feels it was worth it.

Maloney, a former Marine who is in his mid-20s, was participating in a training exercise when a stick of dynamite exploded in his palm. He lost his right hand.

Maloney, Pollock Look Forward to Future

The Bethel Park, Pa., man was the first person to get a hand transplant at the UPMC.

Maloney's surgery was one year ago Sunday, and he said he feels good.

"Drive down the road, and got a girl in my truck, I can hold her hand while I'm driving. It's pretty nice, you know, to feel normal again," he said.

Pollock is well on the road to recovery. Just three weeks after the historic operation, he is feeding himself.

He said he remembers the moment when he woke up after the surgery.

"They were telling me 'move your fingers,' and I was like, just doing that," he said. "I was, like, amazed ... it happened so quick."

Click HERE for more information about UPMC's hand transplantation program.

ABC News' Matt Press contributed to this report.

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