Duke Health performs first hand transplant in the state

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DURHAM, N.C. – A 54-year-old man, who lost his hand at age 4, is the recipient of Duke Hospital’s first hand transplant.

Rene Chavez had the surgery, the first of its kind in the state, on May 27 and today unveiled the hand at a news conference in Durham.

Chavez, who lives in Laredo, Texas, lost his dominant left hand when he reached into a meat grinder just before his brother turned on the power.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said he is feeling fine and has some movement in his hand. Surgeons said the success of the procedure will be clearer when they see how much function Chavez has in the hand in a year and a half.

Chavez is one of fewer than 90 people worldwide to have undergone a hand transplant.

Dr. Linda Cendales, director of the Duke Health hand transplant program, said “this took years and years of planning.” She helped start the first hand transplant program in the country in Louisville, Kentucky and, in 1999, was part of the team that performed the first hand transplant in the United States.

Cendales said that it’s an exciting time for everyone involved. “The patient is doing very well and is recovering from his surgery,” she said. “He is excited about the possibilities that await him as he continues his rehabilitation.”

The surgery, which included 17 surgeons, took 12 hours to perform.

Duke is one of just 10 hospitals in the United States that has performed a hand transplant.

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