The road to more hand transplants

Over the past 20 years, more than 85 amputees around the world have received a hand or bilateral hand transplant—including two adults and one child at Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). For a great majority, this rare gift has been transformative.

L. Scott Levin, Chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Penn Medicine and Director of the Hand Transplant Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)

Lindsay Ess, the first patient at Penn to undergo a bilateral hand transplant in 2011, is a perfect example. “I drive. I live on my own. I have a dog. [A] house to take care of. Cleaning. Dishes. Cooking,” Ess, who lost all four limbs due to sepsis three years before her transplant, told ABC News in 2016. She has even competed in CrossFit competitions.

Today, “she’s doing beautifully,” says L. Scott Levin, chairman of Orthopaedic Surgery and a professor of plastic surgery at Penn Medicine, a leading expert in the specialized field of vascularized composite allotransplantation (VCA) who led the three transplant surgeries at Penn and CHOP. The revolutionary procedure—which comes with a host of physical and psychological factors unlike other transplants—involves first reattaching the forearm bones, then the arteries and veins, muscles, tendons, nerves, and finally the skin.

“Most patients who have undergone VCA have gotten back incredible function,” Levin said. “Where they were fully disabled and dependent, they now live independently.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.