Posts Tagged ‘physical therapy’

The Story of California’s First Hand Transplant Patient

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Luke Skywalker from the movie Star Wars recovered quickly after losing his hand, but in the real world, replacing a lost hand is a painful and long-term proposition. With the recent success of high-profile surgeries such as the , it seems that transplant surgery has come closer to the dreams of science fiction, but it’s worth bearing in mind that fiction rarely reveals the long road to recovery. In reality, the surgeries, physiotherapy, and risk of rejection demand true heroism.

Emily Fennell, who recently became California’s first hand transplant patient, lost her right hand in a car accident in 2006, when she was a passenger in a car that was sideswiped. The car rolled and Fennell’s hand was flung through the sunroof, crushed between the car and the road. The hand was mangled and had to be amputated.

The 26-year-old single mother didn’t give up, however, and after getting home from the hospital, she taught herself to use her left hand for everything. But Fennell didn’t want to live the rest of her life with only one hand. She learned about hand transplant surgeries and was accepted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s hand transplant program. She knew the risks of the surgery, which typically requires lifelong use of powerful immunosuppressant drugs and may result in outright rejection of the hand. The Center found a donor within a couple of weeks.

Fennell is now enrolled in eight-hour daily physical therapy, and waits for the day when her nerves will grow enough to connect with the nerves in the hand. The hand has no sensation, and Fennell still can’t fully accept the hand as hers. With time and effort, however, Fennell will soon get her wish: to hug her daughter “with both hands.”

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