In 2010, Mayo Clinic launched the first clinical hand transplant program in the United States. It's "an entirely new generation of transplant medicine," that, while not lifesaving, can powerfully affect the quality of life, says Hatem Amer, M.D., Mayo transplant physician and co-director of the new program in Rochester, Minn.
Steven L. Moran, M.D., Mayo Clinic plastic surgeon and the program's co-director, notes that hand transplant patients likely will be veterans who lost their hands in Iraq and Afghanistan, farmers or burn victims.
According to Dr. Moran, there may be 200 or more such veterans. Potential candidates would be individuals who have had one or both hands amputated or so seriously damaged that they would be rendered non functional
The program allows patients to embark on reconstructive surgery without being required to enroll in experimental trials.
Although the first hand transplant took place in France 13 years ago, the procedure is still considered experimental. Dr. Amer notes that, the patients will "take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives" and "still run the risk of rejection."
Hand transplantation is a complex surgery involving attachment of a hand and forearm from a donor to a recipient. The procedure involves the reattachment of skin, bone, muscles, nerves, tendons and blood vessels. People in good health, who have lost hand function from trauma such as an accident and failed reconstructive surgery,, may be candidates for hand transplant at Mayo Clinic.
"Our hand transplant program highlights the integrative approach that is inherent in the Mayo Clinic Model of Care, bringing together specialists representing a number of areas," says Dr. Amer. "Our team of caregivers are from Hand and Micro Surgery, Transplant Medicine, Rehabilitation, Immunology, Psychiatry, Neurology, Transplant Infectious Disease and Nursing, to name a few."
Transplant coordinators, physical therapists and social workers also care for people who have transplants.