California’s first hand transplant encounters success after success

After losing her hand five years ago in a car accident, twenty six year old Emily Fennell became the first person to receive a hand transplant in California and, after six weeks of recovery and eight hours of physical therapy a day, she told The Los Angeles Times that she has no regrets.

“About a week after the accident, my mom said, ‘You can be the kind of person who says ‘Woe is me’ and gives up, or you can say, ‘This sucks, but I’m moving on.’ I chose that one,” Fennell said.*

Life went on after the accident; she learned to use her left hand because having a prosthetic worked less efficiently anyways. Kennell quickly learned to type forty words per minute and drive with one hand yet juggling life with a six year old daughter was a challenge. Hearing about a hand transplant, she researched the revolutionary procedure and was eventually accepted to UCLA Ronald Reagan’s new transplant program where she would wait for a donor. Kennell graciously received a donor hand sixteen days after being put on the list from a family in San Diego.

When asked, Carlsbad students can hardly believe that a procedure like this can be done.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Senior Kelly Ritchford said. “It’s like amputation will never be a problem again.”

Fennell considered the risks of the lifelong use of strong immunosuppressant medications, which included high blood pressure, liver and kidney damage as well as susceptibility to cancer and infections. However, the pros outweighed the cons when she considered having full dexterity again.

Her full-speed-ahead attitude and determination was a pleasant surprise for the doctors. Fennell is encouraged to call the hand her own instead of referring to it as “the donor hand” for psychological purposes; it helps create a bond so the hand does not feel foreign to her during her physically challenging therapy.

“The hand is connected to me. It’s mine,” Fennell said. “But until I have feeling in it, it’s not going to feel like mine.”

Based on Fennell’s personal success, her procedure marks a medical breakthrough. Such progress will better the lives of many of those who live without full dexterity.