Medical Minute 8-12: Linda's New Hand: Rare Transplant Surgery

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

To Linda Lu, five fingers never looked so good. 20 years ago, she lost her left hand to a rare childhood disease. Now, thanks to Doctor Linda Cendales and her team at Emory University, she has a new hand and new hope.

"It's remarkable. I can't even begin to fathom what went into it," said Linda Lu, Hand Transplant Patient.

Donor hands are matched by gender, skin pigmentation, size and blood type. Just three hours after the limb for Linda became available, the intricate 19-hour procedure, incorporating surgical techniques from organ transplant and microsurgery, was underway.

"We connected approximately 33 structures, including bones, nerves, vessels, tendons, and the skin," said Linda Cendales, M.D., Hand Transplant Surgeon at Emory University.

It will take a few more months for Linda to have sensation in the new hand, but the nails, and even the hair on it, are already growing.

"I've already accepted the hand as mine. I smile every time I look at it."

Working four hours a day with her therapist increases her functionality and dexterity.

It's a gift Linda says she'll never take for granted

"I want to remember the first time I saw it every time I look at it. I never want to lose that feeling, and I don't feel like I ever would."

A young woman celebrating her very own medical miracle, one day at a time.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: There are about 1.7 million Americans living with lost limbs. There are more than 185,000 new amputations performed each year in the United States. Limb loss can occur because of trauma, infection, diabetes, vascular disease, cancer, or other diseases. Traumatic injuries are another cause of limb loss.
(SOURCE: Amputee Coalition)

HAND TRANSPLANT: Transplant and reconstructive surgeons from Emory University Hospital successfully performed a rare, complete hand transplant on a 21-year-old patient. The 19-hour surgery involved multiple teams of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and operating room support staff members. Two teams -- one dedicated to the patient and the other dedicated to the donor arm -- completed the surgery. The procedure involved the connection of numerous structures including bones, tendons, nerves, vessels and the skin. Donor hands are matched by gender, skin pigmentation, size and blood type. It will take a few months for the patient to start having sensation in the new hand, but doctors say the nails, and even the hair on it, are already growing. Emory is one of just four centers in the United States that has performed hand transplants. The hand transplant trial at Emory is funded, in part, by the Department of Defense. Doctors hope this type of transplant can help soldiers who lose limbs in combat.
(SOURCE: Emory University)

HAND TRANSPLANT HISTORY: The first hand transplant in the world was performed in 1964 in Ecuador, before the development of modern immunosuppressive medications. The recipient, who was a sailor, had to have the transplanted hand amputated two weeks after surgery because of tissue rejection. The next hand transplant was performed in France in 1998. It lasted more than two years before the recipient stopped taking immunosuppressive medication and asked to have the hand removed.
(SOURCE: Emory University)

Lance M. Skelly, Director of Media Relations
Emory Hospitals and Wesley Woods Center
Health Sciences Communications
Atlanta, GA
(404) 686-8538

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