Former Afghan Soldier Gets New Hands After Rare Transplant

PHOTO: Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences & Research Center posted this photo to Facebook showing Abdul Rahim, the recipient of a hand transplant. PlayAmrita Institute of Medical Sciences & Research Center
WATCH Former Afghan Soldier Gets New Hands After Rare Transplant

A former Afghan soldier who lost his hands while diffusing a bomb now has two new hands after a rarely performed transplant was carried out at a hospital in India's southwestern town of Kochi last month.

"It was a real team effort," Subramania Iyer, head of the plastic surgery department at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, told ABC News. "The procedure took about 15 hours and nearly 20 doctors and assistants were involved."

The patient, Abdul Rahim, 30, approached Iyer and his team nearly six months ago after scouting for hand transplants in several countries, including Iran, Iyer said.

After months of counselling, the operation was conducted on April 10 and Rahim is now recuperating. He is already using his new hands for day-to-day activities, hospital officials say.

The donor was a 54-year-old man who lost his life in a traffic accident.

"We will need to monitor Rahim for several months," Iyer said, noting that there was always a risk of rejection.

The most challenging part of the operation, Iyer added, was the logistics.

"The donor's hands was in another department so we had to transport them, all the while preparing Rahim for surgery," Iyer said.

It's not the first hand transplant performed at Amrita Institute. The first was done in January, and the recipient is progressing extremely well, doing all routine activities, according to a written statement from the hospital.

“Since difficulty was anticipated in getting hands to be donated, an awareness campaign was initiated through public meetings, newspaper articles and TV talks,” the statement continued.

The price for Rahim's operation was set at $23,500 (1.5 million Indian rupees).

While Iyer said his team improved between the first and the second transplants, he added that this kind of operation is not suddenly going to become popular.

“We need to be very cautious with these types of transplants," he said, "as they require a lot of physical therapy and medication.”