Charlotte Devlin and The Documentary On One team return to the remarkable story of Felix Gretarsson. In 2020's documentary Felix, we heard how the Icelandic electrician lost both of his arms in an accident while working on high voltage power lines.
Since that day he has been chasing a seemingly-impossible dream to have human arms again. French surgeons agreed to do the surgery and Felix’s dream to have a double arm transplant, started to become a reality. In 2013 the Icelander moved to Lyon, France, to wait while the 50-strong medical team prepared and practiced for the transplant. 3 years later, when everything was in place, the search for a suitable donor (which took 5 years!) began.
We left the story there, and then, on January 12th 2021 Felix received the telephone call he has been waiting on - a suitable donor has been found and he needs to get to the hospital in the next hour, to prepare for a pioneering transplant surgery, that will completely transform his life.
The story of what happens next is told in Felix - Life And Limb by Dubliner Charlotte Devlin, who joins Felix and his loved ones on this exciting but precarious journey in real-time. The pioneering transplant surgery takes 15 hours, and is followed by Felix’s nightmarish first days waking up in ICU, the excruciating pain, the sheer joy of being a ‘whole’ human being again and roller coaster ride begins.
This is experimental surgery and even though the new arms look the part they don’t actually work yet, and Felix has known from the outset that there are no guarantees they ever will. At best, the functionality of his new arms will be very limited. As chief surgeon Dr Aram Gazarian said at the news conference announcing the double arm transplant to the world, "giving a little to somebody who was missing so much, is already a lot." As if that wasn’t enough, the threat of Felix’s body rejecting the donor arms, will always lurk in the background.
Recovering feeling and movement in his new arms will be a long, slow process…one he couldn’t do without the dedicated and loving support of his wife, Sylwia and mother, Gulla.
Throughout all, Felix is his usual upbeat self. His faith, determination, courage, resilience, and great sense of humor are always evident and inspirational. Like Felix says ‘nobody is going to survive this life, we all die at the end and I'd rather take the risk of dying doing something that I believe in, than just hanging there afraid to try anything.’
It’s September 2021, 9 months in and Felix continues to work hard in rehab and is defying all of the expectations. He won’t be playing the piano anytime soon, but he’s thoroughly enjoying his new arms and the simple pleasures they bring.
Narrated by Charlotte Devlin.
Produced by Charlotte Devlin & Tim Desmond.
First broadcast RTÉ Radio 1 - Saturday 25th September, 2021.
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries