Double Hand Transplant Recipient Discovers New Gift Through Painting

BOSTON (CBS) — Richard Mangino tells WBZ-TV’s Lisa Hughes that he did not let a quadruple amputation define his life nearly 14 years ago.

Now the first double hand recipient at Brigham and Women’s Hospital says in some ways his life got even richer in 2002 after doctors were forced to amputate parts of his arms and legs in order to save his life from an infection.

Initially, life post amputation was challenging.

“They talk about physical pain. [The] psychological pain is more,” he said.

Double hand transplant recipient Richard Mangino (WBZ-TV)

Double hand transplant recipient Richard Mangino (WBZ-TV)

It was only after the amputations that the lifelong artist from Revere discovered a new talent and gift through painting.

“My wife got me some paint. So I started squirting it out and here’s what comes out of it,” he said. “I’m not like a regular artist, I just throw stuff together and mix it up.”

With Boston as his muse — Mangino produces colorful, vibrant paintings.

“Every painting is a journey of me,” he said. “It was very important because it gave me a place to go in my mind.”

Double hand transplant recipient Richard Mangino (WBZ-TV)

Double hand transplant recipient Richard Mangino (WBZ-TV)

While painting took off, the hooks that replaced his hands were uncomfortable. So he designed a modified prototype.

“The prosthetist told me they probably wouldn’t work. I knew they would.”

With new prosthetics, Richard began testing himself in other ways. He earned his real estate license, took a writing course and even learned how to ski.

“I didn’t really learn to ski, but I took ski lessons,” he said. Even with limits he was unstoppable.

“People might have felt bad for me–I had no hands. But I try to tell everybody ‘Gee, I have a great life!’

That great life got even better in 2011 when Richard received the first double hand transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“When you have no hands, it’s almost like you’re walking around with a sign on your head saying what your illness is.”

All that suddenly changed. “You feel like you can fly,” he said. “I’m like everybody else and nobody knows.”

Today, therapists like Marie Jose-Benjamin have become friends. He credits them for their help in his recovery.

“I try to thank them every time,” he said. “When I can do something, it’s to their credit. Whatever I can do is to their credit, whenever I do something, I try to let them know. If it’s dangerous, I let them know after I do it!”

He thanks them with sketches and notes, and he caught the eye of a hospital donor who turned Richard’s paintings into notecards now on sale in the hospital’s gift shop.

He calls art a “metaphor for life” it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

“When you’ve painted something, that final stroke doesn’t have to be it. You can change it. It’s almost like magic.”

This magician is still performing. A few years ago Richard taught himself to play the piano.

“I live my life so those who love me, those who care for me can live their lives,” he says.

Richard Mangino’s note cards help to raise money for the transplant department at Brigham and Women Hospital and yes, he has met the widow who donated her husband’s arms. To her and to the hospital –he says he’s forever grateful.

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