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New Jersey has most hand transplant recipients

Friday, October 22nd, 2010



Two recent hand transplants give New Jersey the distinction of having the most recipients of this rare procedure.

(Photo: Doctors from the University of Pittsburg Medical Center performing a hand transplant / courtesy UPMC)

Within weeks of each other last month, two women — one from Hackensack and one from Millville — received hand transplants at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Combined, the two comprise half the female hand transplant recipients in the world.

Jessica Arrigo from Millville became the third woman in the world to receive a hand transplant. The 27 year old had lost her hands and legs to a viral infection. Arrigo is six weeks into therapy after her surgery.

Arrigo: I can hold coffee cups, and shake up my daughter’s bottle and I can write now. I have splint that allows me to a write a little bit. So I’m making progress.

Arrigo had to weigh the benefits of the transplant against the side effects from her anti-rejection medication. It elevates her risk for diabetes and cancer. But she says holding her daughter’s hand and fixing her own hair is worth it.

One of their surgeons, Vijay Gorantla, says just 17 modern transplants have been done in the US…ever. He says it’s difficult to find patients who are good candidates for the surgery, and to find donor hands that not only match structurally, but cosmetically for skin color, tone, and shape.

Gorantla:
Basically patients are waking up every day and looking at this hand and for them to really adapt and integrate it into their body image it really shouldn’t look different. The more different it looks the more difficulty they’ll have psychologically integrating it into their own body.

Just a few centers perform hand transplants in the world. The University of Pennsylvania recently established its own program but has yet to complete a transplant.


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