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Double-arm transplant recipient shares story

Losing four limbs is far from a laughing matter, but telling jokes is exactly how Will Lautzenheiser copes with his tragic story.

“I think somewhere it was mentioned that I might be doing a standup performance, but I didn’t bring my prostheses tonight,” Lautzenheiser said during a visit to Emerson on April 21. “And, besides that, I was really only doing sit down performances.”


Will Lautzenheiser, received a double-arm transplant last fall, attended a screening and discussion of Stumped, a documentary film about his experiences, at the Bright Family Screening Room of the Paramount Center on April 21. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

The Boston filmmaker, comedian, former professor, and quadrilateral amputee visited the College as part of the Visual and Media Arts Department’s Bright Lights Series to screen and discuss the short documentary about his rehabilitation, Stumped.

After watching the 10-minute movie, which was filmed before Lautzenheiser received a historical double arm transplant last fall—there is an extended version of the film now in the works—he engaged in a discussion with students and community members.

“Every day there are gains,” he said. “Just yesterday we were going downtown and I noticed that I could feel the wind on the palm of my hand…and that’s a sensation I didn’t think I would ever feel again.”

About three years ago, Lautzenheiser had each of his arms and legs amputated from a severe strep infection and subsequent necrotizing fasciitis.

Before having a double arm transplant, Lautzenheiser’s friend and director of Stumped approached him with the interesting idea of doing stand-up.

“The director, Robin Berghaus, sort of tricked me with doing this conversation sort of thing at a comedy club,” he said. “She approached me and said, ‘You know, you’re kind of funny about some of this experience. We wanted to do something in front of a group; why not do it at a comedy club?’”

Lautzenheiser told jokes at Improv Boston, which is shown in the documentary, but he was not able to perform a planned comedy sketch because he received a long-awaited call from his doctor: A matching donor for his arms had been found.

“This represents the best chance that I have for restoring function and sensation,” he said. “It’s a real hand. It’s not a robotic hand.”

Progress is the key to successful recovery and rehabilitation, Lautzenheiser says, and he will not waste time with the “why” question.

“You may as well just get on with your life and figure out something else, and you know, move forward, because you can’t answer those questions,” he said.

Moving forward hasn’t always been easy, but by being surrounded by loving parents, his close twin brother, and his partner, Lautzenheiser has been able to carry on in his challenging and unique situation with a laugh.

“I put my fingers in my mouth and then I think, my God, I don’t know where they’ve been. I really don’t know where my hands have been. Isn’t that a strange thought?”

Learn more about Will Lautzenheiser.

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