Atlanta – A 21-year-old college student from Orlando, Fla. has become the 14th person in the U.S. to receive a complete hand transplant.
"I've already accepted it as my hand since the day I woke up," Linda Lu said during a Monday press conference at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where the surgery took place. "But just looking at it, sometimes I still can't believe that it's there... It kind of feels like magic."
The surgery took place March 12 and lasted 19 hours, as a team of surgeons connected bones, tendons, nerves, blood vessels and skin to link the patient's arm with a hand from a deceased, anonymous donor.
Lu is wearing a high-tech brace to support her new limb as she undergoes intensive rehab to develop function.
Doctors have told Lu, her new left hand is unlikely to ever match the strength of her natural right hand. She will also have to take immunosuppressive drugs to prevent her body from rejecting the donor hand.
However, if all goes according to plan, Lu will develop sensation in her new fingertips, as well as the ability move her hand and fingers.
"I'm in information technology," Lu said. "So, my primary goal is to be able to type."
Doctors had to amputate Lu's original left hand when she was 1-year-old, due to complications from Kawasaki disease — a rare condition in children that causes inflammation of blood vessels.
The breakthrough transplant research at Emory and the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center was spurred by a grant from the Department of Defense, with backing from U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).
"It's been driven, in part, by concern for our servicemen and women returning from (combat) with significant injuries," said Linda Cendales, MD, who leads the program.