Saturday, 3 Jun 2023

Man who received world's first double arm transplant is back on his bike

A man who received the world’s first double arm transplant has ridden a bike for the first time – two years after surgery.

Felix Gretarsson, 50, had to have his arms amputated in January 1998 after he was electrocuted at work fixing power lines. After decades without both arms, he convinced a surgeon to perform the world’s first double arm and shoulder transplant in a 15-hour surgery in January 2021.

The former electrician surprised surgeons with his incredible progress – being able to return to the gym, hug his children and drive.

Now, the public speaker has taken the next step and returned to cycling – an activity he used to enjoy before his accident.

Felix, a dad of two from Lyon, France, said: ‘Before my accident I frequently used a bicycle to go to and from work. I had a chair for my little girl and I really liked using them.

‘I had my eye on riding a bike again for a long time, even when I was waiting for my transplant, but I didn’t know how it would go.

‘Every six months I sit down with my occupational therapist and we come up with the five most important things I want to accomplish in the next six months. At the beginning it was things like personal hygiene and feeding myself, but then a year ago I started putting riding a bicycle on that list.’

As a child growing up in Iceland, Felix had a bike that used foot breaks, so began searching for a similar model. He was also gifted a device from a US-based start-up, Hominid X, which helps people grip things more easily.

‘I was a little insecure because I knew I needed a bike where I’m not leaning forward,’ he said. ‘The steering itself wasn’t the best form, but I was completely prepared for it not to go very well.

“I thought I would fall but I haven’t yet -I’m sure I will at some point but so far it’s been OK.

“I’m not street ready yet but I have a feeling it’s going to be a good summer. The weather is so nice in France, it’ll be nice to ride my bike to and from hospital appointments.’

The grandad-of-five is continuing to push boundaries – next year he wants to climb the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe, Mont Blanc.

Working as an electrician in 1998, Felix was involved in an accident while fixing a line with enough electricity to power 500 homes. He was electrocuted and fell 32ft to the ground. As well as breaking his back in three places and fracturing his neck, Felix’s arms were set on fire.

He woke up from an induced coma three months later finding his arms had been amputated.

In 2007, he saw an advert on the television for a lecture at the University of Iceland by renowned surgeon Dr Jean-Michel Dubernard – most famous for performing the first successful hand transplant in 1998.

Felix tracked him down and the surgeon said there was a possibility of a double arm transplant, but he would need to move to France so his team could do the appropriate preparations.

Four years later, surgeons accepted his application, and Felix launched a nationwide fundraising campaign in Iceland to help pay for the €200,000 operation.

In 2013 he relocated to Lyon and, in 2017, the search began for a potential donor.

Finally, on January 11, 2021, he got the call.

Since the surgery, Felix’s life has completely changed.

‘I’m doing great,’ he said. ‘My hands are still not very usable but I’m managing and everything’s strengthening up. It definitely hasn’t been easy. I’ve been going to the gym four times a week to reinforce my muscles – rehabilitation isn’t enough.

‘My life has changed enormously since my surgery. Those personal things like getting dressed or undressed are so important to me now. In November, I was alone for a whole weekend for the first time.

‘After 25 years of being completely dependent on other people this is a massive freedom.’

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