New Hands, New Hope: Richard Mangino, One Year Later

This story was originally published in the BWH Bulletin

Stem Cell Transplants For 66-year-old Richard Mangino, there is nothing ordinary about seemingly day-to-day activities, like mowing the lawn and using a computer. Since undergoing a bilateral hand transplant at BWH in 2011, Mangino's life has been filled with defining moments of re-experiencing and re-learning the things many people take for granted each day.

With his new hands, Mangino can feel sensation, including heat and cold. He can toss a football with his two young grandsons, paint, swim across his backyard pool and play a few chords on his guitar. When asked about the most rewarding thing he's been able to do in the past year, Mangino lifts and bends his arms in the air and places his hands behind his head.

"Just being able to do this is unbelievable," he said, smiling. "It's hard to pick just one thing. Everything is amazing."

After years of relying on his hands as a United Airlines ground crew coordinator and musician, Mangino developed sepsis following a bloodstream infection in 2002. His physicians amputated his arms below the elbows and legs below the knees in order to save his life.

Mangino and his wife of 43 years, Carole, adjusted to his new reality as a quadruple amputee. He underwent therapy and began using a hook and prosthetics to eat, write, drive, paint and even shovel snow. But last year, he received donated hands through the New England Organ Bank. Mangino's surgery, the second double hand transplant at BWH, was performed by a multidisciplinary team led by Bohdan Pomahac, MD, director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation, and Simon Talbot, MD, surgical lead for the Hand Transplant Team.

Since his surgery, Mangino has visited BWH for rehabilitation at least once a month. He does therapy at home daily, picking up and stacking objects to improve his hand control. Getting back to the things he loves doing, like sketching, painting and gardening, is also therapeutic, Mangino says.

"If I can go forward and do things on my own, the people I love don't have to live my life for me," Mangino said. "I am fortunate that I can do so many things for myself now."

Added Carole: "It's the little things that we all take for granted, like scratching an itch and holding a spoon. We are waking up every day to a miracle."

Mangino takes comfort in knowing that his story has inspired others. He has been stopped in traffic at a red light when a fellow driver recognized him from a television news broadcast.

"He makes other people happy," Carole said. "The way he approaches and handles everything-people appreciate that."

Mangino is writing a book about his experience, which he hopes to publish. He remains focused on the present, counting each day as a gift.

"Today is everything; it is all we've got," Mangino said. "But I hope that this time next year, I am the same person I am now and that I have the life that I have now. Everything else is just extra."