My new hand will help me take care of my daughter, says transplant mother

A 26-year-old mother who lost her right hand in a traffic accident several years ago has reunited with her doctors to show off her new donated hand.

Emily Fennell from Yuba City, California received the donor limb in a marathon operation after her hand was damaged in a car crash.

‘It has been surreal to see that I have a hand again, and to be able to wiggle my fingers, Ms Fennell said. 

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Success: Emily Fennell had wanted a new hand to better care for her daughter, after she lost hers in a 2006 car crash

Miracle workers: Dr Kodi Azari, left, performing the hand transplant at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

She was living with a prosthetic after her accident in 2006 but wanted a hand transplant to better care for her six-year-old daughter.

Ms Fennell told Today: ‘She really wanted Mommy and Mommy couldnt do everything for her anymore’.

During the 14 1/2-hour operation a team of nearly 20 surgeons, nurses and support staff grafted a hand from a deceased donor onto the patient and intricately connected bones, blood vessels, nerves and tendons.



The transplant at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles was the 13th such case in the United States and the first for the hospital.

Emily was able to move her fingers soon after the surgery. She faces several months of rehabilitation and has to take drugs for the rest of her life to prevent rejection.

‘My 6-year-old daughter has never seen me with a (right) hand. She looked at it, touched it and said it was “cool”,’ Ms Fennell told Msnbc’s Today programme.

One of a fortunate few: Roughly 40 hand transplants have been performed around the world, including several double hand transplants

‘She cant wait for me to be able to  do more things with her — teach her to tie her shoes, play catch with her.’

Dr. Kodi Azari, who performed the surgery, told Today that Ms Fennell was exactly the kind of patient his team was looking for.

Dr. Azari said: ‘With Emily it was her determination and her level of understanding, not just about the procedure but about herself and what shes capable of, that made her the perfect candidate for the transplant.

‘Emily is really one of those pioneers who is delving into this brand new and brave new field’.

Hand transplantation has come a long way since the first one was carried out in Ecuador in 1964 before the development of modern immunosuppressive therapy. The transplant failed after two weeks and the patient had to have the new hand amputated.

Relearning: Ms Fennell works on improving her coordination

More than three decades later, French doctors in 1998 performed a hand transplant that lasted two years. The recipient did not take medications as ordered and his body rejected the limb.

Since then, more than 40 hand transplants have been performed around the world including several double hand transplants. The recipient of the first U.S. hand transplant in 1999 has lived with a donor hand for a little over a decade.

‘It’s clear that it’s achievable,’ said Dr Warren Breidenbach, who performed the historic surgery.

The UCLA operation cost about $800,000, but since it was experimental, Ms Fennell did not have to pay.

Little has been revealed about the donor except that the hand matched the patient’s in terms of blood type, size and colour.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, April 17th, 2011 at 6:41 am and is filed under Health Ideas. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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