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Hand transplant is a first for Mass. General

Procedure for victim of ’03 R.I. club fire

Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Steven Senne/Associated Press/File

Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

A man who was badly injured in the Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003 received a hand transplant on Sunday at Massachusetts General Hospital, the first procedure of its kind at the Boston hospital.

Joe Kinan, 43, received a new left hand in a transplant operation that began on Sunday night and lasted into Monday, Mass. General officials said.

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“Mr. Kinan is awake and resting comfortably today after the procedure,” the hospital said in a statement. “The surgery went smoothly, and physicians are cautiously optimistic about the patient’s prospects of gaining use of his new hand.”

Kinan was recovering Monday evening and could not be reached for comment. His family also could not be reached.

Hand transplants, still relatively rare, have proven able to restore recipients’ ability to perform many routine daily tasks. As for Kinan’s prognosis, the hospital’s statement noted: “Because the surgery was completed only this morning, it is premature at this time to speculate further about Mr. Kinan’s likely course of recovery and prognosis.”

Last fall, Mass. General announced that it was launching a hand transplant program, with the goal of eventually developing a way to replace limbs without subjecting patients to a lifetime of dangerous antirejection drugs. The only other Boston hospital that has reported performing a hand transplant is Brigham and Women’s.

One hundred people were killed inside the nightclub in West Warwick and hundreds more were injured on Feb. 20, 2003, when pyrotechnics ignited soundproofing material during a concert, quickly engulfing the building in flames.

Kinan has written on his personal website that he was hospitalized for nearly a year after the deadly blaze. He said he has undergone more than 120 surgeries and will face more throughout his life. His face was also severely burned.

“Even after I was released for a few weeks, at the end of the day I would feel as if I needed to go home to the hospital,” Kinan wrote. “To this day it is one of the most comfortable and relaxing places for me. . . . This experience has taught me I am a tenacious individual and I persevere each day.”

Victoria Eagan, vice president of the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, said in a phone interview that she was in frequent touch with Kinan’s family throughout Sunday evening and into Monday.

“I’m thrilled personally for my friend that he has this opportunity,” Eagan, of West Warwick, said. She added that she got to know Kinan through her work with the Station Family Fund, a group formed in 2003 to assist survivors and their relatives.

“He is one of the strongest people I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet,” said Eagan, who is also a Station survivor. “Faced with a life that most people would have found insurmountable, he has absolutely triumphed.”

The Globe reported in January 2004 that Kinan returned home as the last hospitalized survivor, after many operations at Mass. General and nearby Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. His injuries required operations to remove dead skin, transplant healthy skin, and keep vital organs functioning.

On his website, Kinan also provided an account of the chaotic scene inside the club as patrons struggled to escape the flames.

“Everyone quickly stampeded to the doors causing a wave of people pushing each other down and trampling one another,” he wrote. “As we made it towards the exit people fell in front of me and then on top of me. Karla [his girlfriend] suffocated and did not survive, but she was not burned.

“I was trapped and conscious throughout the entire ordeal. I could hear everything going on around me. The sounds of yelling were quite loud. Then it grew quieter and quieter. Then it was just me. Next I heard the voice of a firefighter, ‘We’ve got one over here.’ ”

Kinan’s hand transplant surgery was performed by a surgical team led by Dr. Curtis L. Cetrulo Jr., of the hospital’s Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Announcement of it came after the Globe reported on Friday that a 66-year-old man is thriving one year after receiving two new hands and forearms in a transplant procedure performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

That hospital, like Mass. General, is part of the Partners HealthCare network.

Mass. General said physicians from Brigham and Women’s, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Boston Children’s Hospital were involved in Kinan’s procedure, participating in planning meetings and observing or assisting in the operation.

Liz Kowalczyk of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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