Surgeons at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center performed a 14-and-a-half hour hand transplant this weekend.The hand traveled from San Diego to become the first ever hand transplant in the western U.S.
The Futurama-esque procedure has decidedly unique considerations: The hand couldn't have a criminal record.
“We do an extensive criminal background check,” lead surgeon Dr. Kodi Azari, surgical director of the UCLA Hand Transplant Program and associate professor of orthopaedic surgery and plastic surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA tells L.A Weekly.
Once recovered from a donor, a human heart lasts four hours max. A hand?:
“Nobody has figured it out yet,” Dr. Azari tells L.A. Weekly.
Only about two dozen successful hand transplants have been performed – the first in 1998 in France.
“The times from previous successful implants before re-established blood flow have ranged from 30 minutes to 15 hours,” Dr. Azari tells the Weekly.
Brown University's Division of Biology and Medicine website weighs in:
Hand transplantation is still in its experimental stages, and thus each new operation is significant.
“UCLA has always been at the forefront of transplants,” Dr. Azari tells L.A. Weekly. “Now it's not just to save life, but to improve quality.”
“Prosthetics for hands have fallen behind,” Dr. Azari says to the Weekly. “The dexterity of a hand, no prosthetic can provide. Lower extremety prosthetics are mainly weight bearing – it's not necessary for sensation. You can run marathons with lower extremety prosthetics.”
Sharon Ross, Director of Public Relations at Lifesharing, the San Diego recovery organization that provided the matching hand, tells the Weekly that Lifesharing is following recovery of the 26-year-old woman recipient from Northern California closely.
“My exec announced on the overhead that she is able to wiggle her fingers,” Ross says. “We are all so excited. You're the first to know that — it hasn't been announced yet.”
Ross also points out “We were lucky to find a match just three days after they [UCLA] had come down. We had to go through a process: size, skin tone, skin texture – when we looked at potential donors.”
Those are things patients appreciate, we are sure.
UCLA's hand transplant program aims to improve nerve regeneration and to modify anti-rejection medications.
“Hands are rejected more than other transplants,” Dr. Azari says to the Weekly. “It requires stronger immuno-suppression.”
One goal is to lessen those required meds.
Dr. Azari says that the program has an unofficial goal of about three patients for now. Those interested can find info at
handtransplant@UCLA.edu. OOPS! please use the new link instead:
He adds that patients must have had time to heal from the psychological impact of the amputation – and in some cases, this could mean both hands. Also, patients must have had a month to a year trial of a prosthetic to determine whether transplant would suit them.
The recipient in this case lost her right hand in a car accident almost five years ago.
And, according to UCLA's site:
• The patient must be between 18 and 60 years of age.
• The amputation must have been at the wrist or at the forearm level.
• The patient must have no serious infections, including hepatitis B or C, or HIV.
• The amputation was not due to a birth defect or cancer.
• The patient is otherwise in good general health.
• The patient will commit to extensive rehabilitation, will adhere to an immuno-suppressant medication regimen, and will participate in follow-ups with the transplant center.