Two years ago, Dr. Alidad Ghiassi, a specialist in hand and upper extremity surgery in the USC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, got an unexpected call from a former colleague, Dr. Kodi Azari.
Dr. Azari, who is the director of the hand transplant program at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), was gathering a team of expert surgeons to perform a hand transplant, and he wanted Dr. Ghiassi to participate in this exceptionally rare procedure.
“My immediate answer wasn’t a quick yes or no,” Dr. Ghiassi said. “I had to think about the impact a hand transplant would have on the patient over the long term, and I wanted to consult with the people close to me about it first.”
Once Dr. Ghiassi learned more about the patient and his fierce commitment to the process, the answer became obvious.
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“The patient didn’t have the use of his hands or legs, and he wasn’t able to care for himself,” he said. “I realized that the procedure could substantially improve the quality of his life and increase his independence.”
What Dr. Ghiassi didn’t know was that his decision to be a part of the hand transplant would transform his own life, too.
Dr. Ghiassi, Dr. Azari and the UCLA hand transplant team began collaborating on mock hand transplant operations at Keck Medicine of USC and at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Dr. Ghiassi, whose specialty is wrist and upper extremity surgery, would be responsible for preparing the donor arm for the transplant and attaching the donor’s bones to the recipient’s bones. He and the other surgeons practiced marking structures in the arm and preparing the tissue for transplant. They figured out all of the details of attaching the bones together in a biomechanically stable way — including how long the bones should be, how the bones would rotate and how and where to reattach the nerves. It was a balancing act.