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tv   Nightline  ABC  May 19, 2017 12:37am-1:00am EDT

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shutting down. >> reporter: jennifer had been entrusted to make life or death decisions for the divorced devoted dad. the kind who'd never miss a father-daughter dance. >> i thinking about his daughter. it was just like she -- she can't be without her dad. so i was thinking every moment made was like this little girl. >> essentially, you held his life in your hands. >> i know. and that was a really scary thing for me. >> reporter: during his coma hovering between life and death, jonathan says he experienced powerful nightmares. one presented him with a critical choice. >> a voice, a very deep very distinct, male voice, i don't know if it was my own consciousness, if it was a doctor by my bedside, if it was god, i really don't know even to this day. and it said if you do decide you want to live it's going to be in the most vicious, painful, awful fight every day for the rest of your life.
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>> and you were up for the fight? >> well yeah. when you put it that way it was like, that i get. so i said yes. >> reporter: the instinct to fight, something instilled in him as a young boy. mesmerized by the movie about a tenacious boxer, an underdog named rocky. >> my dad took me to a drive-in movie when i was 11 years old and we saw "rocky." from that moment forward i just knew it was inside of me way more than i had ever thought before that day. >> you took "rocky" as gospel. >> it is the gospel. first of all, he didn't win. rocky didn't win. people don't really think about that. it's about doing the work. it's about putting everything you have into it. if you just literally do your best at everything, that's really awe you can do. >> reporter: after his near-death experience he wokenewfwi
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a appreciation formportaious memory of seeing jennifer the first time you came out of the coma? >> i wanted to marry her. that's the truth. we were >> reporter: thea last 2 1/2 weeks. the damage severe. his body had shut off oxygen to his outer limbs to preserve his organs. his hands and feet were starting to necrosis and gangrene setting in. >> what doer hands? >> it feels like somebody's holding a bic lighter underneath my fingertips all day, every day. >> reporter: doctors wanted to amputate but jennifer intervened. >> when they came and said we want to amputate i immediately said, absolutely not. >> reporter: she began searching for other options. and eventually stumbled upon the possibility of a hand transplant. turns out ucla boasts pioneering hand transplant research. only 85 have ever been attempted globally. and a world-renowned hand surgeon, dr. cody azari, had been scouring the world for his
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next patient. >> i was looking for someone that was motivated that was healthy, and had not had his amputations done. >> reporter: because jennifer had made the critical decision not to have jonathan's hand amputated, he became the perfect candidate for dr. azari. why go through all these surgeries? why not just go with a process thet nick. >> when you of that transplantation they oftentimes put you through psychiatric exercises. one of the questions is why do you want another hand? and i thought, well -- i mean, you have two. you know? i think the world's built for two. and i can handle it. >> reporter: dr. azari and his team began the process by amputating jonathan's left hand, preserving his nerves and blood vessels for the eventual transplant. but dr. azari also told him to get stronger and healthier. he was also gauging something else. what did you size up about his mental toughness? >> his mental toughness was what
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actually got me to fall in love with his personality. he is an eternal optimist like i've never seen before. >> reporter: but the eternal optimist faced a grim reality, that his right leg could not be saved. >> that was an extraordinarily painful moment. she was crying with me. it was a real get it out cry. the admission that we have lost that battle was really tough for both of us. >> reporter: he may have been missing a leg, a hand, all of his fingers and toes. but just like his rocky, even in defeat -- >> come reporter: jonathan kept fighting in order to qualify for that hand transplant. the first milestone? >> oh my god.>> reporter: learning to walk with his new prosthetic. step don't want to fa i walking a big smile o >> it was a heart-warming, chilling just -- almost incomprehensible. >> that's about as big a rocky get. >> reporter: within months he'd have an even bigger moment.
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s hero. finally, jonathan wasthat hand buttal thetransplant.das your wedding day>> our weddingt. it was really noneventful, which is the way we wanted it to be. gas really a 30-second ceremony it was joyous and happy. we really didn't want anything to change. after we got married, we got something to eat like we always do. >> reporter: their honeymoon period involved waiting for the ideal donor. >> you need to match for size you need to match for color, you need to match for hair pattern. >> reporter: it took seven months to get the call. >> how are you feeling your hand transplant surgery? >> very peaceful. and hopeful that everything goes well. >> reporter: and then the complex suery. 24 attendants. countless nerve endings, veins arteries. microscopically stitched together. >> hand transplants are marathon surgeries because there's so many structures that need to be repaired. nerves are like coaxial cables. except t to red, ellow to yellow connection. you have to figure out how they fit within each other so that the parts of the nerve that are
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for sensation match up and the parts of the n that are for motor function match up. initial fears are that the vessels are going to clot and blood is not going to move through the hand. >> there's no margin for error? >> there's no margin for error. >> reporter: even if the surgery is a success, will he be able to control his new we come back. enough! enough laxatives to cover the eastern seaboard. i've climbed a mount everest of fiber. (avo) if you've had enough tell your doctor what you've tried and how long you've from laxatives. irelieve your belly pain, and lets you have more frequent and complete bowel movements that are easier to pass. do not give linzess to children less than six, har get immediate help if you develop unusual ly with bloody or black stools. the most common side effect is diarrhea, sometimes severe. ifop taking linzess and call your doctor right away. other side effects include gas stomach-area pain and swelling. talk to your doctor about managing your symptoms
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jonathan koch was a hollywood heavyweight who barely escaped death. having lost his leg, about to lose a hand he turned to a pioneering procedure, a human hand transplant. could his dreams once again be within reach? after a marathon 17-hour surgery, jonathan koch emerging with a new left hand. >> it's jennifer's birthday when i got out of surgery. and she said, i just want one thing. i just want you to move one of your fingers. and i didn't think there was any chance i could. but i thought about it. and it moved.
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>> that's amazing. for the rest of the day, any time anybody came into the room doctor nurses friends family he's go haaay! >> as soon as we walked into jonathan's room he gives me the thumbs-up like the fonz used to do. right? this guy, he's absolutely perfect. >> reporter: dr. azari also thought the surgery was perfect. the team of 24 nurses and doctors from competing hospitals successfully attaching the donor hand to jonathan's. >> doc, will i be able to play the peon know after surgery? >> reporter: the recovery was far more treacherous than he'd anticipated. what was the toughest part for you of the transplant? >> i woke up my mind wasn't right. i wasn't breathing as well as everybody wanted me to. i was telling jennifer i'm drifting away. i can't seem to get back, i can't get back into my life in control of what's happening with me. >> it sounds like that's the first time self-doubt crept into your mind.
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>> yeah. >> all the work that i had done since getting home working out in my wheelchair trying to crawl up and down the stairs on my elbows and knees -- all those things i did to rebuild myself they came right back into play. having to try to make sense of the hand transplant. >> reporter: but ever the fighter, jonathan soldiered on. >> one weekend he's gripping a tennis ball and throwing it. next thing you know he picks up a glass of water and he takes a drink and he goes, aah! >> you feel fierce and powerful. you just do. so when i grabbed that bottle and i was able to hold it even though it was pretty shaky, i feel fierce and powerful this is an incredible feeling. >> reporter: movement by movement, grip by grip. soon thrilling milestones left
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him giddy. >> jonathan has met or in the vast majority of cases exceeded all of my expectations. i told him, jonathan it's going to take you maybe a year and a half to two years before you can tie your shoelaces. at two months he sends me a video of him tying his shoelaces. >> reporter: the total cost? estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. covered not by insurance but by ucla in the name of research which could end up helping so many others. >> this feels good. >> i bet it does. >> it does. >> reporter: now within reach, moments like learning to drive again. >> all right, here we go. >> whoa. >> we're out of here. >> on the open road. >> yeah. >> it really did liberate him. now he has the confidence and is ready to drive again. couldn't tie his shoe before now he can do that. he couldn't button things before. it just helps, you know with hygiene, taking care of himself in that way. >> was it worth it? all the pain the rehab, the everything for the transplant? >> it was 100% worth it.
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i'd do it again. i would tell anybody to do it. you can't imagine the change in my life as i regain my independence. >> reporter: he's just now begun to regain a sense of temperature, differentiating between hot and cold. and even bigger triumphs. it was his dream to play tennis again with his daughter ariana. variety, swinging a racket with his newly acquired left hand. what does tennis represent to you? >> i just love the competition. there's nothing more than i like to do than to go play as hard as i can and as well as i can and when it's over with no matter what happens, you know it's been an incredible experience. and once in a while you catch lightning in a bottle in a tennis match. >> oh there you go. >> and it's everything you have. and i love that. >> how good have you gotten with your new hand? >> i'm not great. you know i'm learning to -- >> you're saying i have a chance? >> you definitely have a chance.
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left-handed, it hasn't been going great. i throw my racket sometimes accidentally because i'm still working on that. >> i do too. >> it's not as give all as i thought it was going to be, it's just going to take repetition. >> oh i thought i was out of here. >> thanks juju >> good play. >> any other things you've been working on? >> reporter: now the man many described as a hard-channeling workaholic, a man whose life was roadmaped by a hollywood movie, looking for other stories. >> it's great, we should crack some of those. >> reporter: including his own, to inspire others. >> good to see you, always. >> good to see you, thank you. >> if your life story or this last chapter were in a pitch meeting to you what kind of story is it? a triumph over adversity story? a love story? >> you can name it all. it's a triumph of the human story spirit. not just my standpoint but our standpoint and all my friends who rallied so hard. just the amount of love and prayers and all those things that were coming to me that i could actually feel them. i felt lifted up by them.
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i know how many people were caring about me. >> seven, eight, nine -- >> my girl's fierce. >> reporter: the next chapter of this story now left in jonathan's capable hand. >> five six, seven, eight, nine -- beauty. good job, dude. >> we'll be back. when you're close to the people you love, does psoriasis ever get in the way of a touching moment? if you have moderate to severe psoriasis, you can embrace the chance of completely clear skin with taltz. taltz is proven to give you a chance at completely clear skin. with taltz, up to 90% of patients had a significant improvement of their psoriasis plaques. in fact, 4 out of 10 even achieved completely clear skin. do not use if you are allergic to taltz. before starting you should be checked for tuberculosis.
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as we say good night, a special thanks to jonathan koch and his entire family. to dr. cody azari and his team at ucla. and of course tonight our thoughts are with all those perfect donor to change their lives. thanks for joining us. as always we're online at and our "nightline" facebook page. good n >> you know, there's a famous saying: "it's not what you know. it's who you know." but whoever said that clearly never watched this show. this is "who wants to be a millionaire." [cheers and applause] [dramatic music] ♪ ♪ hey, everybody. welcome to the show. you guys ready to play "millionaire" today? [cheers and applause] all right. our returning contestant is here because of one person: his mother. and she will be really happy tons
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away from a million dollease welcome back alex fumelli. [cheers and applause] how you doing, man? >> good. >> good to see you again, alex. [cheers and applause] he's back, and he's got a million dollars in his sights. um, we talked a little bit about your mom and how she got you here figuratively and literally. she signed you up. >> that's right.she was gonna do it. one day, she was watching the show, decided, "i know who would be good at this--my son alex." >> and--and so she went online-- which is amazing, by the way si said, "hey, you have an audition--go." >> yep, that's pretty much it. i showed up at the studio. you know, because it wasn't my own idea... >> right. >> and i just sort of ran up there at the last minute,cooler, calmer more collected than i would've been. >> right. >> uh, it may have helped me. >> you had nothing to lose. you're like, "yeah, whatever. this is just fun." >> [laughs] ut really well, because you have found
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