A young woman who lost her hands and feet to an infection about four years ago is recuperating after undergoing a double hand transplant.
“The patient is doing extremely well,” said Dr. L. Scott Levin who led the team of doctors. “She’s progressing very well through rehab and she has gained significant independence with her gestures. She’s able to wipe a tear and scratch her nose. These are huge milestones.”
The woman, described only as being in her late 20s, has asked to remain anonymous while she recovers.
University of Pennsylvania doctors performed the double hand transplant in September, making her one of only 60 people in the world who has received such state-of-the-art transplantation.
“Our main hope with transplants like this one is that the hands will, over time, function better than prostheses,” said Levin, director of the Penn Hand Transplant Program who was aided in the operation by 12 surgeons.
During the nearly 12 hour surgery, doctors connected the forearm bones with steel plates. Veins and arteries were connected, and muscles and tendons were then stitched together before skin was then closed, ABC News’ Philadelphia affiliate, WPVI-TV, reported.
Matching a patient for a hand transplant can be quite difficult, Levin told ABCNews.com. The skin type, age, gender and size of the hands and arms must be the correct match in order for doctors to move forward with the procedure. Doctors also must evaluate the will of the patient, family and social support, emotional stability and understanding the immunosuppression that results after transplants.
Transplant patients take immunosuppressents to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new limb or organ. While the new body part is usually worth the post-procedure risks, a new study from the National Cancer Institute found that transplant recipients are at double the risk of getting cancer than the general population.
It was not immediately known whether the patient could also be a candidate for a double foot transplant.
“The first kidney transplant was performed in 1954 and here we are, 57 years later, transplanting hands and arms and faces and legs,” said Levin. “I think we’re on the verge of an entirely new dimension of transplantation. It’s really the frontier of surgical technology.”