West Coast's first hand transplant recipient to ride in 2012 Rose Parade
December 19, 2011
5 min read
Imagine trying to wrap your child's holiday presents with only your left hand — when you're right-handed. For the last five years, that's exactly what 26-year-old Emily Fennell of Yuba City, Calif., has had to do.
This year, it's different. Nine months ago, the young office assistant received a life-changing gift at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center: the first hand transplant in the western United States.
Fennell will now be waving from the Donate Life float in the 2012 Rose Parade on Jan. 2, one of 28 riders representing organ and tissue donors, transplant recipients, and candidates on the transplant waiting list.
"Now I'm so accustomed to my new right hand, I barely remember when I didn't have one," Fennell said.
Fennell, the 13th hand transplant recipient in the U.S., lost her right hand after it was crushed in a roll-over car accident in June 2006. After the amputation, occupational therapists helped her learn to use her left hand for all tasks, including tying her shoes, writing, dressing and even driving a car. She tried a prosthetic hand and traditional 'hook' prosthesis but stopped using them because they didn't provide the functionality she desired, she said.
Fennell missed doing the "little things" that get taken for granted, such as putting her hair in a ponytail or cutting up a steak while dining at a restaurant. She researched hand transplantation and became excited about the possibilities a new hand could provide, including the potential to care more fully for her 6-year-old daughter, to become more independent and to achieve greater success in her career.
Fennell's transplant was made possible by the generosity of the family of a deceased donor in the San Diego area. The donor's family worked with the staff at Lifesharing, a nonprofit, federally designated organ and tissue recovery organization serving San Diego and Imperial counties.
"I cannot thank my donor enough for this amazing gift," Fennell said. "It's helping me feel whole again, and I intend to use it to the fullest."
Fennell underwent the groundbreaking transplant surgery earlier this year at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center during a 14-hour procedure that began just before midnight on March 4.
"I'm thrilled that Emily will represent the UCLA Hand Transplantation Program — and really the promise of all transplantation — on the Rose Parade float," said Dr. Kodi Azari, surgical director of the program. "It wasn't so long ago that transplantation of a hand was just a dream. To be able to make this dream into a reality and offer this life-enhancing treatment for Emily has truly been a privilege."
The transplant surgery was part of an ongoing clinical trial at UCLA intended to confirm that surgical techniques already established in hand transplantation are successful. The trial also aims to study the return of function in transplanted hands and to assess the effectiveness and safety of the anti-rejection medication protocol.
Fennell can now carry papers in her right hand, grip a steering wheel and paint her fingernails on both hands.
"It has been surreal to see that I have a hand again and be able to wiggle my fingers," the single mother said. "My 6-year-old daughter has never seen me with a hand. She looked at it, touched it and said it was 'cool.'
"I know it will take time to get there, but my goal is to function like I have two normal hands and not even have to think about it."
The Donate Life float in the 123rd Rose Parade is themed "Just Imagine — One More Day" and will feature floral clocks and clock towers from around the world, reminding all that time is precious. Donate Life California hopes millions of parade viewers and spectators are inspired to take a few minutes and make a difference, joining the more than 100 million Americans who have registered as organ, eye and tissue donors. Sign up today by visiting Donate Life America at www.donatelife.net or, in California, at www.donatelifecalifornia.org. California residents may also sign up through the Department of Motor Vehicles when getting their drivers license.
Donate Life California is a nonprofit, state-authorized organ and tissue donor registry administered by California's four nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organizations, each responsible for facilitating the donation process in the state: the California Transplant Donor Network, Lifesharing, One Legacy and Sierra Donor Services. As a state-authorized public service, the registry assures that all personal information is kept confidential and stored in a secure database, accessible only to authorized organ and tissue recovery personnel.
The UCLA Health, which comprises the UCLA Hospital System and the UCLA Medical Group and its affiliates, has provided the best in health care and the most advanced treatment options to the people of Los Angeles and the world for more than half a century. UCLA's preeminence in health care — a strength that comes from the union of research, teaching and excellence in patient care — continues to be recognized nationally, internationally and in numerous forums. The clinical programs of Ronald Reagan UCLA Health - Santa Monica Medical Center–UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, and UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital have produced a system of hospital care that is unparalleled in California. Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is consistently ranked one of the top five hospitals in the nation and the best in the western United States by U.S. News & World Report, and the UCLA Medical Group has been ranked among the best in Southern California for four successive years by the Integrated Healthcare Association. UCLA physicians and hospitals will continue to be world leaders in the full range of care, from maintaining the health of families to the diagnosis and treatment of complex illnesses.