Philly’s First Hand Transplant Surgery Performed at Penn (Video)

The University of Pennsylvania joins the ranks of just six institutions in the world to perform a hand transplant surgery.

Doctors perform the delicate hand transplant surgery. Image courtesy of Penn Medicine

A team of 30 doctors and nurses performed the region’s first hand transplant surgery in September, the University of Pennsylvania announced at a press conference earlier this morning. The surgery was part of the new Penn Hand Transplant Program. And the patient, a female quadruple amputee, received not one, but two new hands as part of the bilateral transplant procedure.

The patient has yet to be identified—she wants more time to recover in therapy before she talks about her experience—but what we do know is that the surgery took 11½ hours to complete. It’s a super complex and delicate procedure, which involves attaching the hands and forearms from a donor and connecting everything from bone and blood vessels to nerves and muscles. The bones come together with plates and screws, and muscles and tendons have to be repaired individually once blood flow is restored to the limbs. The Penn team included 12 surgeons, three anesthesiologists and 15 nurses.

It’ll be at least a year of recovery and therapy before the patient sees “significant improvement in function,” according to a statement from Penn. Immediately after surgery, doctors were largely concerned with ensuring that the patient’s body didn’t reject her new hands, administering doses of immunosuppressant medications.

According to the Inquirer, Penn is one of just six institutions in the world to perform a hand transplant surgery. Double transplants are even rarer: The local patient was only the fifth in the world to undergo the procedure.

Watch a video of the procedure below. Warning: Some of the images might make you queasy.