College student gets first hand transplant in Southeast
March 28th, 2011
06:20 PM ET

College student gets first hand transplant in Southeast

A 21-year-old college student from Florida has joined an elite group of about a dozen patients in the United States who have received a hand transplant.  "I don't think there is anything that can describe how I feel, except for happiness and hopefulness," transplant recipient Linda Lu told reporters at a news conference Monday in Atlanta.

Lu lost her left hand when she was only a year old,  due to Kawasaki disease, she says.  This disease causes inflammation of blood vessels, which can lead to blood clots and limbs being deprived of oxygen which ultimately can lead to limb loss, according to Dr. Chris Larsen, who was part of Lu's transplant team.  Lu's new hand was attached in the 19-hour surgery at Emory University in Atlanta on March 12.

"I've already accepted it as my hand," says Lu. Her movements right now are very limited, but she describes the feeling as "amazing – it kinda feels like magic."  Her new hand was attached at the wrist, and for the next year, it will be in protective splint, says Emory University's Dr. Linda Cendales, who led the transplant team.

Cendales says she hopes Lu will  be able to make a fist, regain sensation in her fingertips, experience nail growth, discern temperatures and experience sweating. "It will never be a normal hand," says Cendales, but the surgeon believes the purpose of  such transplants is to regain better quality of life and improve upper extremity function.

Lu, who is a student at Valencia Community College in Orlando, Florida, says that  since she's studying information technology, her primary goal is to type.

Cendales explained that a hand transplant  is not so different from an organ transplant, in that after connecting the bones, the soft tissues and then the nerves and tendons are reconnected. However, the best candidates for a hand transplant have to undergo a very thorough screening process, including a mental health evaluation. That's because  with a kidney or a heart, the donated organ is inside the recipient's body. But since this is a visible transplant, skin tone and gender and size all play a role in finding a matching donor hand.

Patients also need to be willing to comply with the regimen of drugs they will have to take for the rest of their lives to avoid the body rejecting the new hand. Lack of compliance can contribute to patients losing their transplanted hands. This happened to the case of the first modern hand transplant, which was done in Lyon, France, in 1998. The  hand had to be removed because the patient stopped taking the anti-rejection drugs.

Emory's reconstructive transplant program is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Defense. Cendales, who was part of the surgical team that performed the first hand transplant in the United States back in 1999 in Louisville, Kentucky, says the DOD's support for this program is driven by need to help military service members returning from combat with serious  injuries. The DOD also funded research in Boston that led to the first full face transplant to be performed at Boston's Brigham and Women's hospital two weeks ago.

Cendales says Emory's program is the only one within the Veteran's Affairs  system. Finding matching donors and qualified recipients is a challenge, but both military and civilian patients have been approved and are waiting for a suitable donor hand to be available. She and her colleagues acknowledged that without the generosity of the donor families, these type of transplants are not possible.

soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Arleashia Evans

    This is amazing. I wonder what type of sociological affect does this have on a person knowing its different from the other hand and having to look at it everyday and you can't just take it off like a pair of pants you don't want.

    March 28, 2011 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Liz

      Diefinitely. I agree tatally and this is definitely and amazing feat.

      March 28, 2011 at 23:31 | Report abuse |
    • grammar nazi


      March 29, 2011 at 09:01 | Report abuse |
  2. Arleashia Evans

    I can't imagine myself without a hand because I still have both. I just don't know if I was in this situation could I handle the visual aspect that it's someone else. It would take a remarkable person with a strong mind to cope with the daily medications to keep your body from rejecting the implant. Its a lot to take in because this isn't a procedure that is dealing with keeping you alive. God bless the you!

    March 28, 2011 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jammer

      you would get used to it within a couple weeks. Just like everything else in life, humans adapt to their surroundings and everything else that goes good or wrong in their life, quite rapidly. You would think you were born with that hand in a few months flat.

      March 28, 2011 at 23:12 | Report abuse |
  3. M C McCoy

    Interesting. But there was just a hand transplant done in California (at UCLA) in early March and it didn't make CNN. Is that because you only cover east coast news? or because Emory is in your backyard? It was the first on the west coast.

    March 28, 2011 at 22:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth

      That's great news too; I think the point was in the last paragraph: that it is the only hospital who can do this in the Veteran's system. Hurray, something good for our Veterans.

      March 28, 2011 at 22:35 | Report abuse |
  4. Elizabeth

    I am very glad for her and others who have had amazing results from surgery. A family member had abdominal surgery in September; it is almost unbelievable what can be done today. But forgive me. Glancing down the headlines, my unfocused eyes read, "College student gets head transplant." O.K., so I need glasses. It's a piece of good news, at least.

    March 28, 2011 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mindy

    Wow... it's amazing result!! I cannot really imagine that... I hope that everything is fine. 🙂

    March 28, 2011 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Dane


    March 28, 2011 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Tinker

    So...lets say she commits a crime and they do fingerprint forensics on the transplanted hand....

    March 28, 2011 at 23:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • aubrie

      Interesting..... I hadn't thought of that......

      March 29, 2011 at 11:52 | Report abuse |
    • PennyNot

      Wondered how many comments it would take to get to this!

      March 29, 2011 at 15:27 | Report abuse |
  8. Joe

    Is that thing good to go?

    March 28, 2011 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. John

    Do you think the transplanted hand will be capable of performing tasks such as typing or playing a guitar or piano?

    March 28, 2011 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jason

      The transplant probably won't be that responsive considering it's still a newly developed process but it still beats a prosthetic.

      March 28, 2011 at 23:36 | Report abuse |
  10. YeahItsMe

    Then switching hands really would be like cheating

    March 28, 2011 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jason

    One word, WOW!!!!!!!!

    March 28, 2011 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Hellrazah

    Cant wait to give her a hi-five (5)

    March 29, 2011 at 00:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Kabra

    This would be a tough decision. Living without my hand (typing as I am now) would be very challenging, but the anti-rejection drugs have serious risks like increased risk of other infections, cancer, etc... It's not just a simple win-win situation.

    March 29, 2011 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. FwdProgress

    While war is without a doubt one of the most horrible things man kind is cable of, let us not forget that some of the most incredible medical and technological contributions are the outcome for the better good of mankind. I pray for miss Lu as well as all others who are so brave and allow us to expand our knowledge!

    March 29, 2011 at 00:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. soldier man

    Just a thought that occurred to me as a military person....we have tons of vets out there with metal hooks attached to their hands who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I am excited she got a hand...don't get me wrong...but maybe the DOD should try helping some service members with the money they have been given...
    Just saying.

    March 29, 2011 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PennyNot

      As with amputees from other wars, traumatic removal of a limb does not always leave enough tissue to allow a transplant. I'm sure as they progress with this technology, military amputees will benefit. Look at all the amazing prosetics that are available now compared to the 1960/70's. War is awful but it does advance medicine.

      March 29, 2011 at 15:30 | Report abuse |
    • S. Martin

      This surgery was done at least partly to benefit soldiers. They are practicing essentially and learning how to do it well and the DOD is funding this because they want to develop the science to benefit soldiers. That hand was available and matched someone on the list. If it had been a soldier that matched, the soldier would have gotten it I believe. I know a wounded soldier got a face recently at a different hospital but also in a DOD funded effort to develop ways to help our wounded warriors. I'm the wife of an ex-military man who thankfully was not wounded, but I am ALL for service members getting the best care available for their sacrifices. Bless you for your service.

      March 30, 2011 at 13:47 | Report abuse |
  16. Neo Amish

    High five's to her,the donor and family, and the transplant team.

    March 29, 2011 at 01:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. dave

    Now he is really going to give himslef "the stranger".

    March 29, 2011 at 01:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mr. Slave

      Oh Jeethus, Jeethus Christh!

      March 29, 2011 at 16:52 | Report abuse |
  18. carol murrayh

    How totally awesome! that's wonderful that a person can have a hand transplant....good luck to her and congratulations to the doctor and the team that performed this procedure.

    March 29, 2011 at 02:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie

      I agree its incredible!

      March 29, 2011 at 12:25 | Report abuse |
  19. atwhatcost?

    While I think the idea of a being able to replace a missing limb is amazing, I dont personally think it it would be worth it unless the missing limb was hindering my ability to live and function independantly (such as missing BOTH hands). To get this done, one would need to be on immunosuppressants for the rest of his or her life. Immunosuppressants lower the body's ability to fight off infection and disease and could end up really hurting you. I just can't see harming my body to replace a limb that i could function without.... of ocurse, this is just my opinion...

    March 29, 2011 at 10:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Katie

    I am in healthcare and the advances we are making in medicine every day amaze me. I am so happy to see people get another chance at life, organ dontation is such a wonderful gift. I recommend every single person become an organ donor because your body can save up to 14 people. Heart transplants, face transplants, heart and lung etc..., hand its amazing. These donors, doctors, families and hospitals are providing people with amazing gifts.

    March 29, 2011 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • S. Martin

      I actually think we ought to make donation the default choice and make people decide to opt out if they feel they must for religious or whatever reasons. To me it seems incredibly selfish NOT to donate things that you can't possibly use any more. When I die I want to help as many people as possible! How often do you get a chance to save a life?

      March 30, 2011 at 13:49 | Report abuse |
  21. Mikey Sauseege

    Now that's what I call a 'hand job!"

    March 29, 2011 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. annieLD

    Is it permissible to comment on this "miracle" in the context of today's furious debate on healthcare reform? A greater miracle would be if every citizen of the United States could see a doctor when they needed to and get the drugs and ordinary treatments he prescribed for them. But we are being told we can't afford that.

    March 29, 2011 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. S. Martin

    We would have a lot more money to spend on preventative basic care is we had tort reform. Docs have to pay TONS in malpractice and practice CYA medicine rather than just doing what is really needed in 99% of cases and it drives up costs incredibly. People with no insurancce going to the ER for a cold and then not paying the bill isn't helping things either. I went to the ER last year and they charged me $40 for 4 ibuprofen. I had some in my purse with me at the time, too. It was $50 for a bag of saline (which I did not need- my urine was so dilute that one of the tests they ran didn't work!) Lest you think that included the venipuncture- no, that was $186. I'm the easiest stick you can imagine. I have enormous veins right on top and they don't roll. The whole experience was very frustrating.

    March 30, 2011 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
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