The patient moves hands and fingers the day after transplant Fotograf/Källa: Sahlgrenska University hospital

Sahlgrenska University Hospital has become the first hospital in the Nordic countries to carry out a double hand transplant. The procedure involved transplanting two hands from a donor to a patient who had lost both hands following a severe infection several years ago.

The transplant was carried out during an 18-hour surgical procedure by a large team in the hospital’s department of hand surgery at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. The patient, who had previously lost both hands as a result of a severe infection, has now been released from hospital after four weeks of inpatient rehabilitation following the operation.

- The surgery went well and the care staff here have been fantastic! It’s a wonderful feeling to have two hands that I can move. A big difference compared with the prostheses I had before. I’m really pleased with my two terrific hands, the patient said.

The transplant was possible thanks to a long-running and close collaboration between the hospital’s departments for transplantation, anaesthesia-surgery and rehabilitation, among others. A double hand transplant is an advanced procedure which requires that surgery on the donor and the recipient be carried out simultaneously. A procedure which demands a high level of surgical and medical skill as well as a very closely coordinated team.

- The big challenge was coordinating the more than 15 surgeons, surgical nurses, anaesthetists and anaesthetic nurses who carried out the 18-hour operation, and to ensure that bones, blood vessels, tendons and nerves were connected so that function and mobility of the hands will be as good as possible, said Paolo Sassu, consultant of hand surgery at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, doctor of medicine and the doctor in charge of the transplant.

Already on the day after the operation, the patient was able to move all ten fingers of the transplanted hands. An intensive training programme has now begun with the hospital’s rehabilitation staff in order for the patient to develop further mobility and function.   

- I’d like to thank the entire medical team for the opportunity they’ve given me to regain a normal and more independent life, and I will be forever grateful to the incredibly dedicated hand surgeons and their team, who have given me a pair of hands and who believed I could do it. I am also grateful to the donor and their family’s decision to donate the hands, said the patient.

This double hand transplant is the first of its kind in the Nordic countries. Normally, hand amputees are offered technical aids in the form of different types of prostheses, but these don’t always achieve their desired function, in particular for patients who have lost both hands. Until now, the reality when hand prostheses do not work satisfactorily for the patient has been that no other treatment options are available. Double hand transplants are globally a relatively new treatment method, and the operation at Sahlgrenska University Hospital was carried out following extensive preparation.

- This procedure places high demands on both the patient and the surgical team. Planning, training and other preparations for carrying out the operation have been going on for more than five years, said Per Fredrikson, a hand surgery specialist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital who also developed the technique which was used to connect the bones of the patient’s and the donor’s forearms.

And although the transplant went according to plan, the period immediately following it will be critical for the patient’s long-term rehabilitation.

- Even if the patient’s medical condition and rehabilitation prospects have exceeded expectations, there is still reason to be very vigilant as the immunosuppressant medication the patient needs implies an increased risk of infection and other complications, said Anders Nilsson, consultant of hand surgery, doctor of medicine and one of the leading surgeons on the team that carried out the operation. 

A double hand amputation is a very disabling condition as it makes almost all everyday tasks difficult or impossible. Not having hands affects a person’s capacity for contact and communication with those around her and therefore impacts fundamental human needs, physical as well as emotional. So even though the patient did not in fact have a life-threatening condition, it was nevertheless a matter of urgency to carry out the transplant.

- Even if this treatment method may raise new ethical issues, the consensus among hand surgery clinics in Sweden was that the operation should be carried out, said Peter Axelsson, consultant of hand surgery, doctor of medicine, participating surgeon in the operation and the chair of Svensk Handkirurgisk Förening, the association of Swedish hand surgeons.

Another result of the operation is that Sahlgrenska University Hospital will become the only hand surgery centre in the Nordic countries qualified to carry out double hand transplants as well as implement permanent robotic arms on amputees.

- The fact that we are able to carry out this type of advanced procedures is a mark of excellence for Sahlgrenska University Hospital as an organisation, and for all its employees, said Paolo Sassu.

For interviews or more information, contact press office at Sahlgrenska University hospital: massmedia.su@vgregion.se, +46-31-342 96 00


Med Sahlgrenska Universitetssjukhuset har västsvenskarna nära till vår avancerade sjukvård som även efterfrågas nationellt och internationellt. Här bedriver vi världsledande forskning mitt i en internationell och attraktiv lifesciencemiljö. Tillsammans skapar vi hälsa för dig som patient, idag och imorgon.

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