Woman who received bilateral hand transplant at Duke meets team who made it possible

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Three months after becoming the first person in North Carolina to receive a bilateral hand transplant, a local woman got a chance to meet the entire team who made the operation possible.

At a reception at Duke University Hospital, Deb Kelly and her family got a chance to thank the dozens of doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and many more who gave her back so much of her independence.

“I met so many people that were behind the scenes, that I was out of it when they were with me so it was really wonderful,” said Kelly.

When Kelly came to Duke for the Thanksgiving Day surgery, she had been without hands since the spring of 2017. That’s when an infection forced doctors to amputate her hands and legs, but everyone who worked on her surgery was struck by her positive attitude and concern for everyone else.

“She said, ‘I feel so bad you guys are here on Thanksgiving and you should be with your family,’ and everybody in the room looked at her and were just like, ‘No, don’t feel that way, please,'” recalled operating room nurse, Hedda Kelley.

The team at Duke was grateful to see the impact of their work.

“O.R. nurses, we don’t really see our patients when they leave, so to come back months later and to see Debra Kelly with her hands, and to see her story and to hear her family members speak about it,  is such an honor to be a part of that,” said Kelley.

“She’s an incredible human being. We saw that before she went in for the transplant and to see her today is just unbelievable for us,” added Kate Ulrich, associate chief nurse officer for perioperative services.

Debra Kelly said she was incredibly thankful for the chance to tell everyone who helped change her life what they meant to her.

“I’m so grateful to everyone involved,” said Debra Kelly.

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