Felix Gretarsson became the first man to have both arms and shoulders transplanted on January 13, 2021 in Lyon.



  • Felix Gretarsson became the first man to undergo a double shoulder and arm transplant.

  • After this operation, which took place in mid-January in Lyon, it will be a long way for the patient to be able to regain the use of his limbs.

  • 20 Minutes

    looks back on this feat and the stages that await Felix Gretarsson.

Lying on his hospital bed, Felix Gretarsson displays a radiant face, casting a few admiring glances at his new body.

In a recorded message, he said he was “touched by the efforts of the staff”.

It is the end of twenty-three years of long waiting.

But also the start of a new life that he hopes will be radiant.

On January 13, the 48-year-old man underwent a double arm and shoulder transplant.

This extremely complex operation, carried out at the Edouard-Herriot hospital in Lyon, lasted nearly fifteen hours.

A world first, revealed by

20 Minutes

, that the surgical teams modestly put into perspective.

"It is true that no transplant had been performed at such a high level of the arm, but we can only speak of a world first if successful", breathes Lionel Badet, head of the urology department of the Lyon hospital. .

At least two years before you can move your arms

Because there is still a long way to go.

Very long even.

It will already be necessary to observe the survival of the grafts.

The first sensations will not appear for at least three months.

Six months, more reasonably.

“Before you can move your arms and shoulders a little, you'll have to wait several years.

We are counting on two and a half years, ”summarizes Arnaud Grégoire, doctor coordinating the samples.

On January 12, 1998, Felix Gretarsson's life changed.

At the time, the Icelandic was an electrician.

That day, he was the victim of a serious accident on a high voltage line.

An 11,000 volt discharge burns his hands.

And plunges him into a coma for three months.

When he woke up, both his arms were amputated.

And even a large part of his shoulders.

“He lived through years of hardship, of difficulties.

In 2007, he had the audacity to go and meet Professor Jean-Michel Dubernard [the first to have performed a hand transplant, then a double hand transplant] at the end of a conference to talk to him about his case and ask him if it was possible to undergo a transplant ”, summarizes Lionel Badet.

It took twelve more years for the feat to be possible.

In the meantime, the man has chosen to leave his country to settle in Lyon and put all the chances on his side.

A "Viking", model of resilience

“I never knew Felix with his arms.

I accepted him as he was.

For me, the operation was not necessary because it was nothing missing, says Sylwia, his wife.

But it was his deepest dream and I never tried to dissuade him.

The couple have put their lives on hold for the past five years.

No more trips, no more stays in Iceland even for a few days.

You should not take the risk of being absent the day a donor would prove to be compatible.

And in this regard, families who agree to donate members of their deceased are not legion.

“We cannot predict what the exact outcome will be, but we have done it and we are prepared for the long road ahead,” his wife continues.

Since his accident, Félix has undergone 54 operations, a liver transplant and developed "an unfailing resilience".

This commands the admiration of medical teams, having affectionately nicknamed him the "Viking".

“He's a fighter and he was the best possible candidate.

We saw what he did after his amputation.

He is very strong mentally.

And the success of a transplant like this lies in the long term.

In particular, we must accept to take a heavy treatment for life, ”says Emmanuel Morelon, head of transplantation, nephrology and clinical immunology.

"If his hands work, that would be a very nice surprise"

There will be many pitfalls.

"We are almost certain that he will cause skin rejections because all transplant patients do," says the practitioner.

But we know we can control it because now we have twenty years of hindsight ”.

There is also no guarantee that the patient will still have his arms in twenty or thirty years.

The risk of failure is real.

The practitioners have never hidden it from the patient.

But he remained determined.

Tired of being in the eyes of all "a trunk man".

"We will follow him and accompany him all his life to never let go", promises Emmanuel Morelon, aware however of the limits of this prodigious transplant.

“At this level of amputation, we cannot promise that our hands will one day function normally.

If so, that would be a very nice surprise, ”adds Arama Gazarian, head of orthopedic surgery for the hands and upper limbs.

The goal is that he can have active flexion of the elbow.

"This will allow him to put his hand somewhere," says the doctor.

This is already enormous for someone, who has been deprived of it for twenty-two years.

Some may wonder whether it was necessary to do such a transplant.

The answer is yes.

For someone who misses a lot, bringing a little is already a lot ”.

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“Limb transplants do not save lives, but they save patients from social death,” says Lionel Badet.

“Felix Gretarsson needed to have a body image that represented him as a whole.

The aesthetic expectation of a patient is not a reason to reject it.

It is quite understandable.

And today, his life will change, ”concludes Emmanuel Morelon.


Lyon: A first double transplant of the arms and shoulders performed on a man


Lyon: "His hands have become mine", 20 years after the first transplant of both hands, patients testify

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