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A Texas man has a new look on life after doctors at Duke University Hospital made history last month by performing North Carolina’s first hand transplant.  54 year old Rene Chavez, of Laredo, received his new left hand on May 27 during a complex, 12-hour procedure performed by a team of 17 surgeons led by associate professor of surgery at Duke University School of Medicine and director of Duke’s hand transplant program, Dr. Linda Cendales.

Chavez, who lost his hand when he was 4 years old in a meat grinder accident, came to North Carolina on May 26 after a deceased donor was identified as a hand match. Chavez is one of about 90 people worldwide who have received a hand transplant.

In a news release Chavez said “I am so grateful to the family of the donor, and I want them to know I will do all I can to honor their loved one.” The name of the donor has not been released.  According to officials the transplant marks the inauguration of a clinical trial at Duke to determine the safety and efficacy of hand transplantation, and the efficacy of a new anti-rejection drug called belatacept, university.

Cendales said in a statement “This is an exciting time for our patient, his family and Duke. The patient is doing very well and is recovering from his surgery. He is excited about the possibilities that await him as he continues his rehabilitation.”  Cendales also said she and Chavez were in contact for three years about the hand transplant.

Chavez said he looks forward to the next few months of rehabilitation, a time when he will relearn things he taught himself to do without his hand.  Duke is only about one of 10 hospitals in the U.S. that has performed a hand transplant.

The surgery is difficult, involving an intricate process of connecting bone, blood vessels, muscle, nerve, tendons and skin.  Cendales said “We are actively recruiting and have been recruiting patients and we look forward to offering these options to as many people who have lost one of two hands. We are open to evaluate and the only thing they need to do is just give us a call and we will be happy to see them and to provide the information.”

The university said matching the limb from a deceased donor is also complex, as is the control of rejection, adding to the rarity of the procedure.  Duke’s hand transplantation program was formed in 2014 after Cendales joined Duke’s Department of Surgery faculty from Emory University, where she served as the director of the Vascularized Composite Allotransplantation program and the Laboratory of Microsurgery.

 

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