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First hand transplant at UCLA completed

Surgeons perform the transplant on a young woman at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. It is the first for the university's new hand transplantation center.

March 07, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • The patient rests with her new right hand after surgeons performed the first hand transplant at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on Saturday.
The patient rests with her new right hand after surgeons performed the first… (UCLA Health System/Dr.…)

A young mother has become the first person to receive a hand transplant at UCLA’s new hand transplantation center, hospital officials reported Monday.

The Northern California woman, 26, whose name was not released, had lost her right hand in a traffic accident five years ago. She was recovering Monday following a 14-hour procedure that concluded around 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The operation was the 13th hand transplant in the United States and the first for the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, which opened its hand transplant unit last year.

The procedure was performed by Dr. Kodi Azari, surgical director of UCLA’s hand transplant program.

UCLA's hand transplant unit is the fourth such center in the United States. More than 40 hand transplants have been recorded worldwide, including a few double hand transplants in recent years. The first hand transplant was performed in 1998 in France, while the first U.S. hand transplant took place in 1999 in Louisville, Ky.

The first hand transplant surgeries were shadowed by controversy, said Dr. Warren C. Breidenbach, who conducted the first U.S. transplant.

"Right out of the gate it proved to be successful, but it took time to see that," Breidenbach said. “When the first French patient was done in 1998, there was a lot of fury. We followed in 1999, and there was a lot of concern about it. We were told it was unethical and shouldn’t be done. There is no longer debate that this procedure has a high potential for long-term survival of the hand.”

The latest statistics show a five-year success rate of about 92% to 95%, he said. Some patients have lived with the new hand for more than 10 years. Most recipients can feel sensation in their new hands and can write, pick up a glass and button a shirt. However, they are required to take immunosuppressant medications to reduce the chances that the body will reject the donor hand.

How functional the hand will be remains to be seen. In cases in which the forearm has not been badly damaged and the patient has received excellent surgical care and proper physical therapy following the transplant, the results are typically satisfactory, Breidenbach said.

The Los Angeles Times published a hand transplant Q&A with UCLA's Azari in July 2010.

Click here to watch footage of the hand transplant surgery.

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