BALTIMORE, Md. (WUSA) -- Doctors had a narrow window of time to re-attach Lt. Ryan Emmons's arm.
The 30-year-old West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Lt. Emmons's arm was cleanly severed at the elbow, following Wednesday's beltway accident where a tractor trailer slammed into the back of Ryan's fire truck.
Little did Ryan know he would be in great hands with Dr. James Higgins, Chief of the Curtis National Hand Center at Medstar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. His team spent 8-9 hours in surgery re-attaching Ryan's arm.
"this amputation went right through the joint in a manner there was not a fracture through the forearm or upper arm."
That was just one of many factors working on Ryan's side, his detached arm was well preserved on ice in a plastic bag.
Just the day before Dr. Higgins was part of a team that announced the success of a double arm transplant of a quadralateral amputee Iraq War veteran at Johns Hopkins.
"you never know how important your hands are until their gone, and Brendan Morracco described it eloquently how it helps personality, your psyche."
Dr. Higgins describes the success with Brendan Morracco's surgery. With only a day behind Ryan Emmon's re-attachement, he is cautiously optimistic.
"he is handing challenge quite well."
The first 5 days are critical just to keep Ryan's limb alive, after that Dr. Higgins says it will be a long road to recovery.
"he'll have a lot of hoops to jump through."
Dr. Higgins will never have the exact same function as he did before the accident, but Ryan Emmons is a great patient, young and healthy. And for now, their first concern is just to keep his arm alive and go from there.
Dr. Higgins says they spent two years 'rehearsing' using two cadavers and several surgeries to prepare for the double arm transplant.
"It's a great feeling walking out of the operating room. It's one of the best parts of the job to make a huge difference in someone's life."