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

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

Pen High student Myles made this Little Library in his woodworking class and it now stand in front of West Bench Elementary. (Submitted)
Penticton Secondary student makes Little Library for primary school

The Little Library has been installed in front of West Bench Elementary

The Desert Centre in Osoyoos opened on Saturday for the season. (Contributed)
Osoyoos Desert Centre opens for the season

‘Getting out in nature is one of the most important remedies [during] COVID restrictions.’

The Pencticton Vees beat the Trail Smoke Eaters 7-0 in the second to last game of the season on Saturday. (Pentiction Vees photo)
Penticton Vees play last game of season today at 4 p.m.

The Vees have dominated the league in wins and play the Cranbrook Bucks at 4 p.m.

Book Shop by Michael Law
There’s magic and colourful history at Penticton’s largest and oldest book store

The Book Shop, like so many businesses, is wanting to turn the page to the end of this pandemic

The Oliver Fire Department had to put out a fire on their own training ground, and it wasn’t one they set. (Facebook)
Vehicles torched at Oliver Fire Department training grounds

This suspected arson comes after the cars were vandalized earlier and suspicious fire the night before

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Spallumcheen councillors (from left) Todd York, Gerry Popoff, Christine LeMaire, John Bakker, Joe Van Tienhoven and Andrew Casson join Mayor Christine Fraser (fourth from left) in helping to proclaim the township open for business with new signage off Highway 97A. (Township of Spallumcheen photo)
Being open for business paying dividends for Okanagan township

Spallumcheen wins provincial award, new business and building starts increase

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

Salmon Arm Silverbacks forward Mathieu Bourgault (13) tries unsuccessfully to deflect past West Kelowna goalie Johnny Derrick during the Warriors’ come-from-behind 7-6 BC Hockey Leaguje pod shootout victory Saturday, May 8, at Vernon’s Kal Tire Place. (Tami Quan Photography)
West Kelowna Warriors rally to edge Salmon Arm in shootout

Warriors overcome three significant deficits to post 7-6 BCHL pod win in Vernon; Silverbacks finish pod 9-7-2-2

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Most Read