Published January 14, 2015
A retired Air Force master sergeant in Texas is the first U.S. woman to successfully receive a hand transplant to replace the hand she lost nine years ago to a package bomb explosion at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Surgeons had been preparing for the nine-hour operation for a year and a half on 59-year-old Janet McWilliams’ left hand. The surgery was performed at Wilford Hall Medical Center on Feb. 17. It is only the 10th of this type of transplant in the United States, the first one on a woman.
“At this point, there is a healthy blood flow to Janet’s new hand, and she already has experienced some movement in her thumb and her fingers,” said Maj. Dmitry Tuder, chief of the hand and upper extremity service at Wilford Hall.
Although the surgery was a success, it will take more than six months to regain feeling in her transplant hand, and she will require extensive occupational therapy and medication for her life’s entirety.
After the explosion, fellow soldiers were able to retrieve her wedding ring, and McWilliams said she is looking forward to wearing it.
“I’ll sit there at nighttime, when it’s real quiet and the nurses aren’t probing me and giving me shots, and I’ll marvel,” McWilliams said. “I absolutely marvel, sir, at what has transpired here. And by the same token, I think of the family who has donated this hand.”
In addition to her left hand, McWilliams lost three of her fingers on her right hand, and her right eye in the 2001 explosion.
“There’s nothing you can’t do in life. No is not part of my vocabulary. This beautiful hand will certainly become a part of my body,” she said.
It took eight months to find a donor, who was a similar size female with the same skin tone and blood type.
“You have to understand, I’m a woman. If I’m wearing a prosthetic, I want it to look feminine. I don’t need this masculine claw or a Luke Skywalker hand,” McWilliams said.