UCLA HEALTH SYSTEM has created the first hand-transplantation center on the West Coast – and one of only a handful of such centers in the United States.
“Many patients who have lost one or both hands find that prosthetic devices are not enough to help them get back the life they had enjoyed previously because they lack the sense of touch of a human hand,” says Kodi Azari, M.D., surgical director of the hand-transplantation program. “In these cases, hand transplantation can offer a unique opportunity to regain dynamic function and the feel of a real human hand.”
The first modern-era hand transplantation was performed in France in 1998, with the United States following the next year. Worldwide, more than 50 patients have had the procedure, 12 of them (including four double-hand-transplant recipients) in the United States.
Both the preparation for the surgery and the procedure itself are complex and require a large team. The UCLA Hand Transplantation Program involves a partnership among UCLA’s transplantation services and hand surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, orthopaedic surgery, psychiatry, pathology, anesthesia, internal medicine, radiology, neurology, ethics and rehabilitation services working together pre-operatively.
The procedure requires as many as 10 specialized surgeons collaborating for eight-to-12 hours to fix the bones and repair the arteries, veins, nerves and tendons, as well as to repair the skin. This type of multiple-tissue transplant presents immunological and functional challenges. “You don’t see your liver or your kidney, but you see and use your hand every day,” Dr. Azari says.
Neither transplantation nor hand reattachment is new; what is new is combining the two fields into one reconstructive transplantation. Says Dr. Azari, “This is a new direction – transplantation not to save lives, but to improve the quality of lives.”
For more information about the UCLA Hand Transplantation Program and to watch a video with Dr. Azari, go to: www.handtransplant.ucla.edu