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Chesterfield man who lost hands in farming accident recovers from double hand transplant: 'I took the negative and made it positive'

Posted at 4:52 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 17:00:16-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va.-- A Chesterfield County man who lost both hands in a tractor accident now has the ability to touch and feel again after being only the second person ever to have a double hand transplant.

“I look at where I'm at now and I'm here for a reason,” Chris Pollock said. “Whatever happened was very traumatic. But, I took the negative and made it positive.”

Back in 2010, Pollock became only the second double hand transplant in the United States and the first to receive a transplant up to the elbow.

Today, he said that he feels that he is 100%.

Pollock, 52, was originally from Pennsylvania where he worked for most of his adult life as a federal technician and was also a member of the Army National Guard.

The accident that left him without his hands happened the day after Thanksgiving 2008 when he helped harvest corn from a friend’s farm in Pennsylvania.

“But, I had this gut feeling. Like something's telling me something's not right,” said Pollock. “I didn't know what it was and continued on through the day.”

Near the end of the day, Pollock said the wagon that held the gathered corn from the corn picker was starting to overflow so he stopped and got off the harvester, which was still idling at operating speed.

“So, I walk around the vehicle and I see this ear corn going into the machine. Now, don’t get me wrong, the machine was not blocked or anything like that. It just it was just me being OCD,” said Pollock. “I see this ear of corn, I went to hit it in and it didn’t go in. And I had a military jacket on, the cuff was hanging pretty low. My next reaction was to hit it again. That second time I hit it, the chain had grabbed that cuff and pulled my hand in. Instantly, I had the reaction of ‘Oh my gosh’, I mean, it was painful."

Pollock said he probably went into shock at that moment because his reaction was to reach in with his right hand to save his left, but it, too, got stuck in the machine. Pollock said he was stuck in the machine for roughly 30 minutes before people heard his calls for help.

“I would yell, lose energy, yell again. And then finally I just was ready to give up and I said, God, at this point, I'm like this, God, let me die. God, let me die. God let me die. The third time, I said that there was a warm feeling that had overcome me. And people had shown up,” said Pollock, who was then airlifted to the hospital.

Pollock said he lost his left hand at the wrist and his right arm about four inches below his elbow.

“What happened was very traumatic. But, I took the negative and made it positive,” said Pollock. “When I was sitting in the hospital the next day, I said to myself, I am not going to let anybody pity me. I'm going to do what I can, whatever, I didn't know what that was, to make myself better.”

Pollock said he was initially fitted with prostheses on his arms, but during his recovery and physical therapy at the hospital he heard about a hand transplant but was turned off by the amount of medication required to do it. But, in March 2009, he said he saw a magazine article about the first double hand transplant in the United States.

“What was inspiring to me was the fact that he was a vet, he wanted to be able to throw a softball again; bake, because that was his favorite thing to do before he lost his hands, bake and hold his grandkids. So I'm like, ‘Oh, cool, I'm going to check into this,” said Pollock.

He said the procedure was being done at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and only required one medication, which had been a concern of his with the other procedure. He said he went up for multiple rounds of tests to see if he was eligible, which he was, other than having to wait for a certain amount of time to pass since his injury.

That time was in December 2009. Then he signed up and received a call within two months that a donor had been found.

“On the 3rd [of February 2010] they called me at 11:30 at night to be in Pittsburgh by seven o’clock in the morning,” said Pollock. He added there were some delays and the transplant surgery did not occur until February 5, which was also the day of Snowmageddon.

Pollock said he had to stay in Pittsburgh for seven months after the surgery because of the amount of physical therapy and checkups required. He would commute back to the hospital for therapy checkups for several years but said the last time he went was in 2015.

“There were a lot of ups and downs. But, you know what? I look back and I'm thinking it's all temporary. I couldn't say that then. I was, like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ But, it was temporary,” said Pollock.

Now, Pollock said he feels he is 100%.

“I'm healthy, I'm alive, I'm upright and breathing. And whatever today is going to bring is, that's what I'm going to hope for or work with,” added Pollock. “This question is asked to me a lot, people say, ‘Well, what can you do?’ It's not what I can do, it’s how I can do it is the way I look at it. There’s a lot that I can do. I just have to put my mind to it and I have to figure out a way, how am I going to accomplish this? And if I get to a point where I need help, then I'll ask for help. In the military, it was work smarter, not harder.”

Pollock is now training to reenter the workforce and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Network Security from East Coast Polytechnic Institute (ECPI University).

“The reason I chose that is you don't have to have a lot of dexterity. It's a lot of computer work,” said Pollock. “I may not be the fastest, but the way I look at it, I wrote papers in college. And people say, ‘Well, how fast can you type?’ I say ‘One key at a time, one letter at a time.'" added Pollock.

“He was the first one to arrive and the last one to leave,” said David Conrad, one of Pollock’s instructors at ECPI. “A lot of repetition. He’s very focused on an objective. He can spend a lot of time working on things that we would take for granted, like typing on a keyboard.”

Conrad said Pollock was also a part of their cyber defense club team.

“The best we finished was 41st out of 400 colleges,” said Conrad. “It was pretty good and Chris was instrumental in being part of the team and helping solve problems.”

“Considering what he’s overcome, his demeanor was amazing,” added Conrad. “I couldn’t imagine going through what he went through and the focus that he had and the demeanor that he had towards me and towards other students was just amazing.”

Pollock said he also talks to groups and potential transplant recipients about his experience.

“I can only tell my story. I don't know how it's going to affect somebody until later on, maybe. Or maybe not. I like doing that. I actually like helping people and if it helps them, great. If not, then, you know, maybe they'll find their niche somewhere,” said Pollock. “I've heard from people say that it's inspiring just to, you know, basically, having a positive attitude.”

Pollock credits his recovery to the right mindset and reconnecting with his faith.

“I pray every day. I’m thankful to be alive. I know that I'm here for a reason and I think that's what gets me by,” said Pollock.