Linda Lu, a 21-year-old Valencia College student, received the Southeast’s first hand transplant March 12th at Emory University, in Atlanta. The operation was detailed in a press conference earlier this week.
She lost her left hand at age 1 due to Kawasaki disease, a vascular condition that can restrict blood flow to extremities, resulting in an amputation at her wrist. She wore a hand prosthesis until the third grade, but after that managed with just one hand.
Looking at her new hand, Lu said, “It feels like magic.”
Lu’s new hand will be able to make a fist, will have feeling in her fingertips and discern temperature, and assist her other hand. But it may never be completely normal. A career as a concert pianist or a surgeon, for example, would still not be possible. Like all transplant patients, she will be on a lifetime of anti-rejection medication. Also, she has 3 months of physical therapy to help maximize the function of her new hand, before she gets to return home to Oviedo.
Fewer than 15 hand transplants have been performed in the U.S. so far.
Editor’s note: To me, the most amazing thing about these operations, known as composite tissue allograft (CTA) transplantation, is the anti-rejection medication. Without this, the transplant would be rejected within a month. Hand surgeons replant fingers, repair bones and tendons every day…but it’s the magic of the immunosupressive medications that makes this particular operation work.