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Top 10 Most Impressive Transplants

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey

These groundbreaking surgeries were miracles of modern medicine. From Chain 124, to a hand attached to a leg, to Karl Merck’s arms, these transplants paved the way for advancements in the medical and scientific community. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Most Impressive Transplants.

Special thanks to our user Roxy for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Most+Impressive+Transplants.

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Top 10 Most Impressive Transplants


These groundbreaking surgeries were miracles of modern medicine. Welcome to Watchmojo.com, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Impressive Transplants.

For this list, we're looking at groundbreaking human organ and tissue transplants that took incredible skill and innovation to accomplish

#10: The Girl Whose Hand Was Attached to Her Leg

When a tractor ran over nine year old Ming Li on her way to school, doctors in Zhengzhou, China, faced a difficult challenge. Her hand had been completely severed, but her arm was too damaged to reattach it. So they grafted the hand to her leg instead. For three months, she lived with fingers dangling around her ankle, until surgeons were able to transplant the hand back onto her arm when it had healed sufficiently. Chinese doctors have since used the same method to save the hands of workers injured in industrial accidents.


#9: Chain 124

Each year, thousands of people die waiting for kidney transplants. Loved ones willing to donate often can’t help because their blood type or antibodies are incompatible. So researchers hit on a novel idea: kidney paired donation chains, a kind of organ swap in which people donate their kidneys to a stranger, and in return their friend, partner, or relative receives a kidney from someone else. In 2012, the National Kidney Registry in the US organized the largest paired donation chain ever, linking 60 people and allowing 30 donors to save their sick loved ones despite being incompatible.


#8: Karl Merck's Arms

In 2002, German dairy farmer Karl Merck had both arms amputated after falling into a combine harvester. When he was found, he begged his colleague to kill him. But Merck survived, and six years later received two donor arms in the world’s first surgery of its kind. A team of 40 medical staff at the Munich University Clinic performed the transplant over a gruelling 15 hours. In a statement to the press, Merck described the feeling of being whole again as “indescribable”, and said he looked forward to riding a motorbike and returning to work.


#7: Six-Organ Transplant

If the transplantation of one organ is impressive . . . how about six at the same time? In 2012, nine-year old Alannah Shevenell, who suffered from a rare form of sarcoma, had her stomach, pancreas, spleen, liver, intestine, and part of her esophagus replaced by doctors at the Boston Children’s Hospital. A tumor had wrapped around her internal organs, and the procedure, which she had just a 50 percent chance of surviving, was her only hope. The transplant took 14 hours, but Alannah pulled through, and doctors have called her progress since a miracle.


#6: First Lab-Grown Organ Transplant

Our immune system is designed to recognize and attack foreign tissue, necessitating the use of anti-rejection medication after transplants. But these drugs also weaken our immune system, introducing whole new problems. So in 1999, Dr. Anthony Atala’s team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina began pioneering a new kind of transplant - growing organs from patients’ own cells. They took tissue from seven patients who suffered spina bifida, a birth defect that causes problems with bladder control, and successfully grew and implanted new bladders - thus completely sidestepping the need for immunosuppressive drugs.


#5: A South African Man's New Penis

Technically, the first ever penis transplant took place in Guangzhou, China, in 2006. But the organ was removed after just a few weeks because it had a “swollen shape”, and distressed the recipient’s wife. Odd as it might sound, psychological rejection of transplanted body parts is a common problem. It would be nearly a decade before a penile transplant achieved long-term success. In 2014, surgeons at Stellenbosch University in South Africa successfully performed the procedure on a 21 year old man who had lost his penis after a botched circumcision ritual. He was soon able to urinate and even orgasm, and later fathered a child.


#4: Bioengineered Vaginas

Next up: artificial genitals. After successfully bioengineering bladders, Dr. Anthony Atala moved on to a bigger challenge: lab-grown vaginas. Using cells from four teenage girls with vaginal aplasia, Atala and his team grew new vaginas on biodegradable scaffolds. Once the organs were ready, they were implanted into the original cell donors. The women are now able to enjoy normal sex lives, and Atala has focused his determination on an even more difficult feat: the transplantation of artificial penises, which he’s already succeeded in growing and grafting onto rabbits.


#3: The First Uterus Transplant to Lead to the Birth of a Child

Uterine transplants are new and complicated procedures. In 2011, Turkish doctors succeeded in transplanting a donor uterus into patient Derya Sert, who subsequently became pregnant. But, tragically, the pregnancy was terminated when doctors couldn’t detect the foetus’ heartbeat. It wasn’t until 2014 that the first baby was born from a transplanted uterus. Swedish doctor Mats Brännström led the team that performed the transplant, and has also succeed in transplanting a uterus from a mother to her daughter, who now has a son - meaning that she and her child came from the same womb. Isn’t science incredible?


#2: Isabelle Dinoire's Partial Face Transplant

After overdosing on sleeping pills, Isabelle Dinoire woke to find the bottom half of her face gone. Her labrador had bitten off her nose, mouth and chin, in what Dinoire claimed afterward was a frantic attempt to rouse her. At the time, no one had ever performed a face transplant using donor tissue. But in an intricate 15 hour procedure, Bernard Devauchelle and Jean-Michel Dubernard grafted tissue from a brain-dead donor onto what remained of Dinoire’s face. Dinoire recovered, and after just one year was able to smile, eat, and drink without trouble. She tragically passed in 2016, but her surgery laid the groundwork for future operations of the like.


Before we reveal the identity of our top pick, here are some honorable mentions:
The First Cornea Transplant
James Boysen’s Skull and Scalp Transplant
Tyson Smith's Two Hearts

#1: A Full Face Transplant

In a horrific hunting accident in 2005, Spanish farmer Oscar shot himself in the face, leaving him unable to eat or breathe on his own. Surgical attempts to rebuild his face failed, so in 2010 surgeons led by Dr. Joan Pere Barret attempted another world first: a full face transplant, including the skin and muscles of the nose and mouth and a new set of teeth. The success of the procedure paved the way for similar operations around the world - including the full face transplant of Richard Lee Norris, also injured in a gun accident, who in 2012 received a deceased donor’s face, including the nose, mouth and jaw.

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