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April 20th, 2011
05:07 PM ET

After transplant, patient wiggles her new right hand

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.


soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Proteus

    Makes new meaning for the phrase "Give me a hand."

    April 20, 2011 at 18:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hahahahahahah

      U funny!

      April 20, 2011 at 19:09 | Report abuse |
    • jeanne

      not even a little funny – you are really sad

      April 20, 2011 at 22:17 | Report abuse |
    • Mchael J.i

      You're a moron.

      April 20, 2011 at 23:41 | Report abuse |
  2. derakh

    This is awesome. Congrats to Ms. Fennell.

    April 20, 2011 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Real world

    The past five years were particularly difficult and the transplant will be particularly great for her because odds are she is right-handed. Doctors are hoping for eventual return of 60% of use of her right hand. BTW, she was not the driver of the car.

    April 20, 2011 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chartreux

      Thanks for amplifying this article for us, Real World. It's nice to know more of what's going on in the lives of these people. Kudos.

      April 21, 2011 at 11:09 | Report abuse |
  4. Craig

    That is absolutely amazing! This was crazy science fiction just a few years ago, and now here it is. It is just me, though, or does it seem creepily 'dead' feeling? Like it feels 'disconnected' somehow? It doesn't look like it should move, and then it does!

    April 20, 2011 at 18:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. dale

    I wonder if the finger prints change over time. DNA from the receipent or stay as donors DNA.

    April 20, 2011 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ModMedic

      Dale – The DNA and tissue of the donor stays the same. That is the reason for the immunosuppressive therapy; to prevent recipient rejection. But this does raise a good question a person needing to be refingerprinted. If a recipient commits a crime using the new hand, the police may not be looking for a "dead person" per se.... Interesting concept for a book eh?

      April 20, 2011 at 19:59 | Report abuse |
  6. frankie

    I WANT MY HAND BACK!!!!

    April 20, 2011 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Leonardo Di Kapuskasing

    Good job!! ... ^5

    April 20, 2011 at 21:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. B. A.

    Man, this is soooo cool. Can't wait until we can have a brain transplant from decent people to Republicans....oop, I meant .... to monons. Whatever.

    April 20, 2011 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Not Amused

      You mean the 45 percent of us that actually pay taxes?

      April 20, 2011 at 21:28 | Report abuse |
    • jeanne

      what are you really trying to say – you cannot even spell

      April 20, 2011 at 22:14 | Report abuse |
    • irish man

      how about a hand job with that eh....

      April 20, 2011 at 23:14 | Report abuse |
  9. Dennis

    It's the hand of a serial killer. Da Da Dummmmmmm!

    April 20, 2011 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. wow

    everyone like a good hand-job

    April 20, 2011 at 21:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jeanne

      unkind

      April 20, 2011 at 22:16 | Report abuse |
    • Lanfear

      aahahahahahaha good 1

      April 20, 2011 at 22:27 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreux

      You aren't the first with this unamusing joke. Can't you read?

      April 21, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    UCLA, it's the best in the West.

    April 20, 2011 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Steve

    Miracle of science. They don't teach that in bible.

    April 20, 2011 at 22:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gerry Evans

      NO... But the bible does tell you it will be chopped of if you steal... And some countries still abide by that "law".

      April 21, 2011 at 00:21 | Report abuse |
  13. Interested Mom

    This is so interesting. As the mother of a 14 year old boy who is an amputee, I am watching this issue with great interest. For now, my son gets along fine with only one hand, though he would of course prefer not to have to. His prosthesis is too heavy and bulky for him to use on a daily basis. I wonder if the donor hand sometimes gets in the way? I wish this lady the very best and would like to thank her for sharing her story. Perhaps this will be something my son can one day experience, if he so chooses.

    April 20, 2011 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Quincey9

      I wish your son the best. Advances are made every day.

      April 20, 2011 at 23:33 | Report abuse |
    • Jason B.

      Difference here though is that she's all done growing. Your son, even if thought to be eligible, would need to wait a few years to finish growing first.

      April 21, 2011 at 07:21 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreux

      One hopes that your son will benefit from this in the future. God bless.

      April 21, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse |
  14. Tron

    Im really happy for her but at the same time can you imagine what millions of animals had to go through for this. makes me cringe.

    April 20, 2011 at 22:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • red

      welcome to the circle of life

      April 20, 2011 at 23:36 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      It's sad to think about, but what's even sadder to ponder is all the Human Beings who would suffer and die without vaccines, organ transplantations, insulin, and the myriad of other medical advances made possible through animal research.

      April 20, 2011 at 23:56 | Report abuse |
    • whatever

      I wonder how many humans were ever used for testing to save the lives of animals...oh wait, none.

      April 21, 2011 at 00:13 | Report abuse |
    • @whatever

      Are you serious? You're going to compare the life of a person to that of an animal? What kind of moron asks a question like that?

      April 21, 2011 at 00:30 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreux

      'Millions of animals'? Tron, your numbers are way off. Thousands, yes, perhaps even hundreds of thousands if lab mice and rats are included in the calculations, but millions? Hyperbole.

      Not to mention, animals also benefit from this research. Endangered species in zoos and pets receive prostheses due to this research. Does not this have value, to save the life of an animal rather than humanely euthanise it?

      All is not as black and white as PETA and other organisations would have one believe. Our pet dogs and cats resist almost certain death from Parvo and Feline Leukemia today due to vaccines developed through scientific research on animals.

      What's that worth to you? Do you love your animal companion? Have you ever seen a puppy suffer through Parvo? I have, and it's horrible. Distemper, too, is a dreadful disease easily prevented with a vaccination. Where did these vaccinations come from? Scientific research on dogs and cats.

      Or is that different? If so, how? If you were lacking a hand or an arm, you'd likely feel differently about this.

      April 21, 2011 at 11:22 | Report abuse |
  15. sparitgus

    Thats just a bit too weird for me. If I ever lost a hand I would not want to get a donor hand. Its one thing having a transplanted kidney or lung but to look down everyday and see a foreign object permantely attached to you just doesn't sit right with me. I wonder if anyone has tried to cut it off after a little while? Even if the psychological tests and the screening anticipating the future actions of someone that has such a traumatic event happen to them would be nearly impossible to predict. On another note, Jeanne get a sense of humor! You comment on the story but bring nothing to the table

    April 20, 2011 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gerry Evans

      SPARIGTUS... Until you loose an arm/hand/leg/foot/toe...etc... YOU don't know how it feels or how you would feel about replacing it. I can tell you from experiance.... You would replace it if you could.... Believe me.

      April 21, 2011 at 00:17 | Report abuse |
  16. Gerry Evans

    As an amputee (the right lower leg) I can tell you how it is to miss a lost body part. Lets hope someday medicine will be able to replace the body part of these young men and women who have served in the military and came home without a limb and face the rest of their life trying to live "normal"..

    April 21, 2011 at 00:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. cb2116

    It's about time Thing from "The Addams Family" found another gig. That guy is one of the finest actors of all time.

    April 21, 2011 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. drcoltrane

    I'm happy for her, but this might be a step in the wrong direction. As the article said, transplant recipients of all kinds are subject to adverse side effects, and it's a little bit half baked because most people are never able to get more than 60% functionality out of their transplants. The way we need to be progressing is in robotic prosthetics and synthetic organs. At the moment, nerve controlled prosthetics are able to restore more efficiency to amputees than biological transplants, and they're able to do it without compromising the immune system or other bodily functions. Hopefully this woman's new hand won't do more harm to her body than good.

    April 21, 2011 at 00:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. RosaFranklin

    How inexpressibly good of the donor's family to allow their daughter/sister/wife's hand to be removed and given to someone else. That's such a difficult decision to make. I'm not sure I would be able to donate part of a family member's body like that. I know that it wouldn't do the deceased any good, but it's just so hard to approve of what seems like dismembering someone. I really respect that this family was able to see that it wasn't some sort of sacrilege or anything and that it would change this woman's life. Thank goodness for such selfless people.

    April 21, 2011 at 00:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      That's what organ donors do.

      April 21, 2011 at 00:56 | Report abuse |
    • Jason B.

      That's why I've let my wife know that Heaven-forbid something happen to me, I want everything possible donated. Heck, I'm not going to need my parts and all my organs, skin, etc. can make a life-giving difference to so many others.

      April 21, 2011 at 07:27 | Report abuse |
  20. SpiderCNN

    Good Job!

    April 21, 2011 at 00:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Mireya

    Congratulations Emily! Glad you had this remarkable opportunity. I would like to take this time to thank the donor and family of this caring donor for making Emily's dream a reality. Emily will be able to share this magnificent present with her 6 year old daughter. I would like to encourage all of you to donate tissue, bone and organs to those in need when our bodies no longer need them. We could impact the life of so many people with our donations. And one last thing...Let's be sensitive of people's feelings. Someone else's difficult time should not be the time for others to find an opportunity to laugh. We can all easily be in a position in which we could benefit from a donor.

    April 21, 2011 at 01:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chartreux

      My organs have been listed to be donated for more than 20 years. However, it's important that one's family know one's wishes because it's always up to them to sign the paperwork. My son, from the age of 10 when he could understand the concept, has agreed to donate his organs. Now he's 23 it's on his driver's license.

      Now I'm a cancer survivor, it's unlikely my organs can be used for anything worthwhile. Nevertheless, if anything can be of use I want it to be recycled...I'll certainly be done with my body and if anyone else has a use for the parts, make it so. Then I can do someone a bit of good after I'm gone.

      April 21, 2011 at 11:27 | Report abuse |
  22. kevin

    This is good, but transplants are a bit weak. How much longer until we can grow new hands and organs? 30 years maybe?

    April 21, 2011 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Sarah

    When does the transplanted hand move? I just saw it sit there. Give me the time?

    April 21, 2011 at 02:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Captain_OWNARSHIP

    i would give myself such a stranger.

    April 21, 2011 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PooPooDNA

      If Rhinoplasty is a nose job, breast augmentation is a boob job, what's hand transplantation?

      April 21, 2011 at 02:52 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreux

      Who cares, PPDNA?

      April 21, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse |
  25. ole Lady

    I'm an organ donor and will gladly donate whatever is needed to help someone else.

    April 21, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply

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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.