Last month quadruple amputee Will Lautzenheiser received the gift of a lifetime: two new arms. An anonymous donation had been made to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and three years after losing his limbs to deadly bacterial infection, the former professor of film production and screenwriting underwent a double arm transplant.
On Tuesday, Lautzenheiser, 40, appeared at a press conference in Boston, his arms partially encased in plaster casts and splints, to thank the surgeons, nurses and staff of Brigham and Women's, as well as the donor.
"This person who is anonymous to me will always be as close to me as my own skin," he said. "It's really an incredible gift."
In September 2011 Lautzenheiser was already in organ failure when doctors at a hospital in Montana, where the young professor had just begun to teach,figured out what was causing the severe pain in his legs: Group A streptococcus. Toxic shock syndrome was shutting down his organs and a rampant necrotizing fasciitis was wantonly killing his muscles, tissue and skin. The only way to stop the infection was to cut it out. To save Lautzenheiser, surgeons amputated all four of his limbs, the left arm above the elbow, the right arm below the elbow, and both legs below the knee.
The Massachusetts native never thought he'd hold his partner or his niece or anyone else in his arms again, but last month after a nearly 9-hour operation that involved 45 medical personnel including 13 surgeons, Lautzenheiser was wheeled out of the operating room with two new arms.
"It's life-changing," he said at Tuesday's news conference.
Lautzenheiser had given up his career as a filmmaker. While learning to walk again with prosthetic legs, he began a new one as a club comedian, though because he performs from a wheelchair, he tells audiences he calls himself a "sit-down comic."
Although the donor's family wished to remain anonymous, they issued a statement on Tuesday, wishing Lautzenheiser well:
"Our son gave the best hugs," the family said. "We pray that you make a wonderful recovery and that your loved ones will be able to enjoy your warm embrace."