LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11)-- Thirteen years ago Donnie Rickelman would have never thought he'd be throwing a baseball in front of hundreds of people.
“I mean when you lose your hand, especially at the age I was at, you pretty much think you life is over," he said, thinking back on that day in 1998 when he had his left hand amputated. "Forever my life was changed. You come out of work one day and both of your hands are bandaged up and you really don't have any hands. So, it's a big difference."
Rickelman was working in a factory when he was 23 years old. On March 9, 1998 he got his hands caught in a machine: his right was crushed but recoverable, while his left had to be amputated from the wrist down. Still, some of his thumb was kept and he still had slight movement in the wrist area, both good things for the future.
In 2011 Rickelman decided to take a chance and get his hand back by undergoing a successful hand transplant procedure at the Kleinert and Kutz Hand Center at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. Rickelman’s physician, Dr. Joseph Kutz, said not all applicants are good candidates for the procedure, even if they have a donor match. He said it takes a lot of dedication and the right mindset, two things Rickelman had down.
"He had a real interest in it and he felt like this was something that he wanted and he wanted to know everything he could about it beforehand," Kutz said.
Now, three years later Rickelman is way past being simply on-the-mend.
"He's progressing very well,” Kutz said. “I would say if you look and watch his function he's got 95 percent of function. His sensation is within the normal limits."
"It's amazing,” Rickelman said. “You really didn't think you hand was going to be back. You always dream but it's just a lnog process and when it finally comes true it's just wow!"
Rickelman said it’s the basic, mundane things that really make you appreciate having two hands.
"Buttoning your pants, wedding ring, things like that it's just a big deal," he said. “"It's a two-handed world. You need both of your hands from the time you get up to the time you go to bed."
So on the third anniversary of his surgery, Rickelman is taking the mound at Louisville Slugger Field to have the honor of throwing out the first pitch at the Bats game. Now knowing Rickelman, there is no question whether or not it will be a strike. He’s probably done his research. The real question is: which hand will he throw with?
"I dunno! We'll see!" he said as he laughed.