Feb. 11 - An Icelandic man is preparing to travel to France for an unprecedented, shoulder down, double arm transplant. Gudmundur Felix Gretarsson lost both his arms at the shoulder in a workplace accident 15 years ago, but his doctors believe that the surgery, although complicated, could transform the 41-year-old's life. Jim Drury reports.
Gudmundur Felix Gretarsson is preparing to make history. The 41-year-old father-of-two is waiting for a total double arm transplant. His doctors say it's the first time a double amputee will have received two complete donor arms from the shoulders down. Gretarsson lost both his arms while working as an electrician 15 years ago. SOUNDBITE (English) GUDMUNDUR FELIX GRETARSSON, DOUBLE AMPUTEE, SAYING: "We were working on a 11,000 volt distribution line and due to some misunderstanding, I accidentally went into the wrong one......I fell down eight metres and I remember waiting for the ambulance and then next I knew it was three months later I woke up in hospital and they had amputated my arms." Gretarsson has learnt to adapt to his situation and can live semi-independently, but the Icelander has always hoped for a scientific miracle. Now, he says, he's found one. Six years ago Gretarsson contacted surgeons at the Edouard Herriot Hospital in the French city of Lyon after watching a TV news story about their transplant expertise. Surgeons there agreed to examine him and, after a series of tests, recommended him for the unprecedented surgery. Transplant co-ordinator Dr Lionel Badet says the procedure is a huge challenge for surgeons. SOUNDBITE (French) LIONEL BADET, CO-ORDINATOR FOR TRANSPLANT SURGERY, EDOUARD HERRIOT HOSPITAL, SAYING: "We don't quite know how much mobility he'll have, as there are no other examples of people who've had such a transplant. This is what makes the transplant so special....we hope we'll at least be able to give him strength in his elbow and some limited movement in his hands, which is better than what he has now." The surgery will take up to 30 hours and Gretarrson must live in Lyon while he waits for suitable donor arms. After a donor is found, surgeons have a window of just six hours in which to begin the procedure. Finding a match won't be easy. Their gender, size, age and skin colour must be compatible with Gretarsson's. But the patient is excited and hopeful of success. SOUNDBITE (English) GUDMUNDUR FELIX GRETARSSON, DOUBLE AMPUTEE, SAYING: "I hope to be self-supportive, I hope to be able to dress myself, I hope to be able to wash myself, eat on my own, I want to hug my daughters..... all the little things people usually don't think about because it's just something you do without thinking." If all goes to plan surgery will take place this summer, after which Gudmundur Felix Gretarsson will set out on the long road to recovery.