Hand Transplant Patient’s Hands Change Color To Match Her Own In Baffling Development

When she was only 18 years old, Shreya Siddanagowda was involved in a bus accident which led to the amputation of both of her arms above the elbow. A year later, she underwent India’s first double upper-arm and hand transplant and received the hands of a 20-year-old man who’d recently died. His skin color was much darker than hers, but Shreya, a chemical engineering student at the Manipal Institute of Technology, wasn’t bothered – she wanted to get back to her studies and living her normal life. However, not long after, something strange happened: her new hands began to change color to match the skin on the rest of her body.

  1. The operation took 13 hours to complete. A team of 20 surgeons came together to successfully complete the procedure to give Shreya new arms and hands, attaching the bones, arteries, veins, and tendon muscles so that they would eventually fuse to Shreya’s own. She spent 18 months undergoing intense physical therapy as her nerve sensations grew and she got full control of the new appendages.
  2. The skin gradually began to change color. Throughout the recovery process, the strangest thing happened: Shreya’s new arms and hands started to change color so that they matched her original skin tone. Not only that, but the arms and hands lost weight and began to look less like they belonged to a man but more as if they were Shreya’s own all along.
  3. Doctors are baffled at the change in skin color. While Shreya’s illness-related weight loss of 12kg could easily have accounted for the arms and hands slimming down, doctors still have no idea how the new hands changed colors. “This is our first case of male-to-female hand transplant. We can only guess that female hormones have led to the change but assessing the exact cause is difficult,” said Dr. Subramania Iyer, head of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Amrita Institute.
  4. There are a few theories, of course. Plastic surgeon Dr. Mohit Sharma, who took part in the hand transplant, has a theory: “In a year or so, the lymphatic channel between the donor’s hand and the host’s body opens up completely to allow flow of fluids. It is possible the Melanin-producing cells slowly replaced the donor’s cells. And that led to the change.” Of course, the actual cause is unknown, but it’s certainly exciting to think about!

Shreya continues to recover and gain control of her new hands, but she can write freely and is able to do many of the same activities she used to prior to the accident. How incredible is science?#

Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @jenniferlstill