Double hand transplant recipient plays piano

(WCVB/CNN) — A Massachusetts transplant recipient is making great progress after his history-making surgery in 2011.

Making beautiful music and feeling the keys of a grand piano, that’s something Richard Mangino had dreams of nearly three years ago.

“The new normal is just the way I am,” he said.

That “normal” is getting comfortable with his hands.

Mangino made history as the first successful double-hand transplant patient at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in October, 2011.

A decade earlier, he lost his lower arms and legs to an infection.

“I don’t notice what I have or I don’t have. I’m just doing all these things now.”

Things like swimming, playing ball with his grandkids and simple tasks most of us don’t even think about.

Hospital doctor Simon Talbot said Mangino is “still making progress in terms of gaining sensation and gaining more function out of the hands. We’ve done a few touch-up operations to give him a little bit more pinch strength on one side and give him a little more grip strength on the other side, but he’s doing great.”

Besides the physical healing and progress the past couple of years, there is also a focus on Mangino’s psychological health, as having a creative side has kept him strong.

“I’m sure that I do a lot more than a lot of people,’ he said, “because I had music and I have some art and I have some things that I already do that help me through life psychologically. It’s just a huge benefit, you know? Psychologically, I’m as good as everybody else with hands.”

And having a supportive family has made all the difference.

“My wife is awesome, ’cause all the things I can do, you need somebody there.”

Mangino’s doctors hope his success can be translated into other transplant advances, saying lower limbs could be the next frontier.

The next frontier for Mangino is gaining more sensation in his fingers, enjoying life and, one day, picking up the guitar again.

“Maybe I’ll try it at some point,” he said, “but I’m happy with the piano, although you miss those riffs. It’s just a dream when you can play.”

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