By Manvi Pant
Monika More’s world collapsed when, on January 11, 2014, she lost her arms in a horrific accident. Then a commerce student at SNDT College in Mumbai, Monika was heading home when she fell into an unfenced six-foot gap near a signal pole at Ghatkopar railway station.
Both her arms were crushed under a running train. “It took me a while to get hold of reality. I wailed in pain until a few people rescued me and took me to the hospital,” she narrates.
Almost seven years later, the Mumbai girl has now become the recipient of a new set of hands, transplanted in an astounding surgery from the body of a 34-year-old Chennai software professional.
Daughter of a travel-agent father and homemaker mother, Monika had a humble but happy upbringing. She is the elder of two siblings, both of whom had a good education. But Monika’s accident shattered her family and crushed her dreams. “Time came to a standstill. I felt as if I’d never get my hands back. But I did not give up hope,” she says.
For a few months, she tried using prosthetic limbs but they were heavy and using them for a prolonged period caused her fatigue.
“There was a constant risk of getting rashes, sores or skin infection. The other drawback was lack of sensation, and the limbs could not be used in water. Sometimes, it frustrated me if the socket did not fit well,” shares the 24-year-old.
The struggle to restore mobility and quality of life went on for many years, when suddenly life took a positive turn.
In 2018, Monika learnt about bilateral hand transplantation at Global Hospitals, Mumbai, and got herself registered there. But she missed several opportunities to find a donor due to various reasons – both medical and emotional, as sometimes the families of the deceased did not agree for hand donation.
Finally, this year on August 27, the hospital received an alert from their Chennai branch. A family was willing to donate the hands of their 34-year-old brain-dead son but had failed to find a suitable recipient in Chennai.
“As per protocol, the donor name goes to the state list first, and then to the regional and national list,” explains Dr Nilesh G Satbhai, consultant plastic, aesthetic, hand and reconstructive microsurgeon at the hospital, who operated on Monika.
After medical formalities were met, the hands were flown from Chennai to Mumbai by a chartered flight. The transplant was carried out on August 28. The 16-hour procedure, which was Western India’s first bilateral hand transplant, was challenging and complex.
“The patient was put on immunosuppressant medications after the procedure and kept in the transplant ICU in a separate room, with a dedicated nurse under strict care and isolation. On the third day, she was able to sit up and walk with support for her arms. We also gave her physiotherapy twice a day, with breathing and shoulder exercises,” says Dr Nilesh.
Monika spent four weeks in hospital and recuperated well with a plaster slab to support her bones. Her hands and fingers are expected to start moving after another couple of months as her nerves, muscles and tendons heal.
The doctor further informs, “For now, she will need help with her day-to-day-activities. Once the hands start functioning, and physiotherapy progresses, she will be more independent.”
Monika is excited about resuming her earlier routine. “I can’t wait to apply mehendi and to paint. I would also be able to do some basic activities such as eating, bathing, combing hair and cooking,” she beams looking at her hands.
She is reminded of her father whom she lost last year, and who dreamt of seeing his daughter with both hands once again. “It is time we shed the taboo surrounding organ donation. The gift of life is a noble act. Pledge to donate organs and help those in need to improve their quality of life,” she urges.
First published in eShe’s December 2020 issue