April 20th, 2011
05:07 PM ET
Emily Fennell’s right hand was so severely crushed in a rollover car accident in June 2006 that her doctors at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center had to amputate it.
Five years later, Fennell returned to the same hospital and this time, the outcome for the 26-year-old from Yuba City, California, was different. She received a hand transplant.
On Tuesday, her new hand rested comfortably over her left, with her wrist bandaged. She could even wiggle her new fingers.
Her procedure was the 13th hand transplant performed in the United States. More from CNN's affiliate KTLA.
For the last five years, Fennell adjusted to life with one hand. The prosthetic hand and a traditional hook just didn't work for her. So she raised her now 6-year-old daughter, picking her up, changing diapers and doing all the things that moms do, using solely her left hand.
But Fennell couldn't do everything - like tie her daughter's shoes, or wrap her own hair into a ponytail.
She was screened in a medical and psychological evaluation to become a candidate for the hand transplant. Transplants have risks because recipients have to suppress their immune system for the rest of their lives. While a hand transplant is a modern medical achievement, it also requires intensive healing and therapy.
Last year, CNN.com reported the story of Jeff Kepner, who in 2009 received the first double hand transplant in the United States. Even with intensive therapy, Kepner was struggling to make his new hands work.
Fennell's operation in March lasted 14 hours. The transplant was made possible because of a decision made by the family of the deceased donor in San Diego.
In a press conference Tuesday, Fennell's eyes watered. She told reporters her daughter looked at her new right hand and said, "Mommy, it's cool."
She will continue to receive therapy for months to retrain her brain to use the hand.
There have been more than 40 such transplants in the world. In March, a 21-year-old college student from Florida received a hand transplant at Emory University in Atlanta.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.