Doctors say the latest recipient of a hand transplant at Louisville’s Jewish Hospital is recovering and being prepared for physical therapy. Donnie Rickelman of Linton, Indiana, about a two hour drive northwest of Louisville, received a new left hand Sunday. Rickelman’s left hand was partially amputated in a factory accident 13 years ago. The mishap with a steel splitter also crushed his right hand. The transplanted left hand, from an anonymous donor, also came from Indiana.
“At the present time his hand is working well,” said Dr. Joseph Kutz, who led the 16-member surgical team.
“The reason it works well is because the attachment to the muscles is his own muscles, and his muscles have always been working, so it’s just a matter of putting the endpoint, which is the hand, on the end of the muscles, and the muscles are working well,” Kutz said at a Tuesday morning press conference.
Kutz says Rickelman will remain in Louisville for at least three months for intensive physical therapy and monitor his tolerance to anti-rejection drugs.
This was the eighth hand transplant performed at Jewish since 1999 and the first since the departure of Dr. Warren Breidenbach, who led the transplant team and is now practicing in Arizona.
Dr. Kutz says the hand transplant program remains strong and there could be another two operations performed over the next six months or so, but finding donors remains difficult.
“It’s easier to get a donor who will give up a kidney or heart or liver because when they’re in a casket, nobody knows those parts are missing. But if you’re in a casket and have the person exposed, the hands are in the casket, so its very difficult for families to give up the hand, unless they’re going to cremate the body,” he said.