My name is Vasyly Rohovyy. I am from the Ukraine. I lost both hands and my left eye in an explosion on February 2000. My right eye was heavily injured too.
Still conscious after the explosion, I was not able to understand what happened to me. I tried to rub my eyes and then everything became clear to me –I had neither hands nor eyes. The hospital in my city was only able to treat me for four days, hardly enough for such extensive injuries. My parents treated me at home as well as they could. It was very hard for my family and I was desperate -- I was left with no hands and a burned face… but I could see-- not much, but I could walk without assistance, see my parents’ faces, the sun and the sky ….
I didn’t want to see anybody. I stayed at home by myself not knowing how to deal with the situation I was in. It seemed like I was not left with anything from my life prior to the explosion. I had studied computer science in college, played football every Saturday, read books, had my sweetheart and many friends. The life experiences you would expect an 18-year-old man to have.
My parents and sister wanted to support and help me, but were not clear on how to start. They could find only one solution-- to give me hope. It was more than hope -- they believed that a miracle was still possible: that I would get my hands and eyesight back. Needless to say nobody believed this was possible but we started looking for a clinic that could help me.
Only in February 2005, five years after my accident we received an encouraging message from the University Clinic of Innsbruck, Austria that they could help me. On 28 May 2006 two donor’s hands were transplanted to me. I waited 63 months for this miraculous surgery.
As I woke up after a 17-hour surgery I didn’t have any other feelings except pain. The joy and happiness of having my hands back came much later. If I only could see my new hands!
Four physical therapists worked with me during my physical rehabilitation process. The most difficult problem I was confronted with was the fact that I had no vision. I had to imagine, draw a picture in my head, think about how I would need to move a finger and only then carry out the movement itself.
I had physical therapy for three years: I re-learned to dress, to eat, to open the door and many other day to day activities that I used to take for granted and pay not much attention to before the explosion. I was able to use a spoon without assistance within half year after the transplantation, the fork –much later. I felt something in my hands for the first time only two months after the surgery: it was cold water, but how exhilarating the experience was the first time I had it. I was so very happy that my hands could feel again.
The downside is that due to the rejections I had so far, I have to be under constant medical supervision and take immunosuppressive drugs so that my body keeps accepting my new hands.
Before the hand transplantation, I wanted to improve my eyesight. I knew about the risk of the eye operations but I kept hoping. I had faith… but...
After every eye surgery I hoped that I will see better. I kept saying to myself that I need to be patient and hope, persevere and I will get my vision back someday in the future. Despite my optimism, the situation was getting only worse. It was terrible! I saw less and less daily. It was getting darker and darker. I was really scared of it. And a day came when the night fell permanently.
Life is a onetime gift
For five years following the explosion, I kept thinking that such life as mine couldn’t be called “life” at all and there couldn’t be any life without hands, without eyesight. I had to find a way to just survive my life. I realized however that I have been putting off my life till later. It seemed like I lost five years of my life just by hoping and looking for the good news, as I perceived the good news to be at that stage.
Putting my name on the waiting list for the hand transplantation gave me a strength I did not know I had. I decided to change all my life. I went to university again, stopped hiding from people as I did in Ukraine, I became more confident both in public and in my private life.
Life without eyesight and with transplanted hands is very difficult - but still life is given only once. Now when my life is much more difficult than it used to be, I understand that I have to enjoy this life because there will not be another one. Everything that we call “problems, difficulties, overcoming them, pains ” is part of our lives too.
My sister Elena is my best friend. She has been helping me both in the Ukraine and in Austria. She helps me with everything and I owe her everything. She shared with me all the challenges of living in a foreign country. I lived in a monastery, in a hostel and in a shelter for a while, but my sister never left me. I am blessed with an extraordinary family.
My interests and plans
I have decided to further my education. I have been studying three languages (Russian, German, and English) at the University of Innsbruck and I enjoy this immensely. I do hope I will be able to get a job in the future; this is one of my most cherished dreams.
I follow a lot of sports and listen to audio books, especially historical and political novels.
Most people cannot even imagine how many patients are waiting for organs, mainly because this is a need that is not publicized enough. Only after the explosion, my friends, relatives and I understood that my future, my life and the future and lives of thousands people, who are standing on the waiting list, are depending on other people, on their families, on that of donors whose names we will never know. "Don't take your organs to heaven. Heaven knows we need them here" says the inscription in the transplant division. This is a powerful statement and I am working towards improving people’s perception on organ donation.
Last year I took part in the meeting “From patient to patient” in Chicago where I had the opportunity to share my experience regarding transplantation and how receiving new hands changed my life for the better. This type of transplant is so new therefore I am asked many questions on the consequences of taking immunosuppressants, which can include cancer and other risks, rejections, the physical pain, the psychological risks and more. I share my experience and try to help those who might benefit from my experience. I find this extremely rewarding.