Marion man happy with hand transplant one year after operation

Ronnie Thurman

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A Marion man is nearing the one-year anniversary of a hand transplant.  Ronnie Thurman, 57, had the operation nearly nine years after a farming accident cost him his right hand and part of his forearm.

Thurman had the operation done at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky.  He was the eighth person to receive the operation, and was the oldest recipient at the time of the surgery.

For nearly nine year, Thurman thought he’d never live with both his hands again.

“I didn’t even know transplants existed,” Thurman said Saturday.  “In 2003, they’d done very few in the world.”

After the accident, Thurman’s wife, Cathy, was ready to help her husband adjust to living with only his left hand.

“We just settled our lives in to knowing he was going to have one hand and that’s all,” she said.

In 2011, Thurman found out the operation was being performed at the Louisville hospital.  A short time later, Thurman got on a list, and by February of 2012, he had a match.

Thurman’s surgery lasted about 16 hours.  He said it took about six months to recover from the surgery.  He stayed in Louisville until May, that’s when he moved by to Marion, and continues to receive physical therapy in his hometown.

“They’re the simplest things in the world when you have two hands,” Thurman said.  “You’d never give it any thought, ever.  When you don’t have a hand, and you get it back, you sure do notice them all.”

Thurman’s donor was Ian Heideman, 22, who was killed in a car crash in Texas.  Earlier this year, Thurman and his wife met Heideman’s parents.

“Mr. Heideman came from a farm background,” Cathy said.  “And Janice agreed, that would be important to Ronnie to have his right hand to do his job.  I told her the other day, she’s the bravest woman I know.”

Cathy, who has been married to Thurman for 14 years, and has seen her husband’s progress.

“he’s been exactly what he told them he’d be, and that’s a work horse,” she said.  “He’s worked his tail off to make his hand work, and to honor the gift we’ve received.”

Thurman is scheduled to visit his doctor in Louisville annually to show his progress.  Thurman continues to work on the family farm.  One of Thurman’s goals is to play golf again some time down the road.

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