I Thought I Was Dreaming

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 9:52am

Transplant recipient talks about receiving a new hand.

"I thought I was dreaming honestly," said 21-year-old Linda Lu.

She is only the tenth person in the country to ever get a phone call telling her she was getting a new hand.

The shy college student from Florida showed off her new hand to the world Monday, just two weeks after a team of Emory surgeons attached it in a 19-hour surgery, making it the first ever hand transplant in Georgia.

Seated at a long table with the transplant team, facing a team filled with media, Lu said, "I don't think there's anything that can describe just how I feel other than happiness."

The opportunity afforded this young woman will extend to service men and women who've lost limbs at war.

Emory is partnering with Veterans Affairs to become a leading limb transplant center in the country.

The Department of Defense has given Emory a grant.

Unlike organs such as kidneys and hearts, finding a suitable hand for transplant is more difficult because there is the issue of gender, size, skin tone color, and the surgery is complicated.

"We started by reconnecting the bones and then we moved into the soft tissues, the tendons, and then we brought in the microscope," says transplant surgeon Dr. Linda Cendales.

One out of the ten hand transplants performed in the United States has failed.

Lu must take anti-rejection drugs the rest of her life, and while doctors say her hand will never be completely normal, it will change her life.

"She will be able to make a fist, she will be able to gain sensation to the fingertips, she will experience the nail growth comparative to her contralateral hand," Dr. Cendales says.

Lu will be at Emory for the next three months undergoing intensive therapy.

After that, it's back to life as a college student, one who looks forward to typing with two hands.

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