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Doctors Transplant Hand and Forearm

September 24, 1998

LYON, France (AP) _ The first hand transplant attempted in years raises hope for people who have lost limbs through birth defects or disfiguring accidents, doctors said Thursday.

Although such operations have never met with success, the doctors who performed this one gave it a 50 percent chance.

Using a new procedure made possible by advances in microsurgery, the doctors attached the right hand and forearm of an anonymous donor to the arm of a 48-year-old Australian man whose own hand was amputated after a 1989 accident.

The 13-hour operation was performed Wednesday at the Edouard Herriot Hospital in the southeastern city of Lyon.

The doctors attached ``all the arteries, veins, nerves, tendons, muscles and skin after setting the two bones of the forearm,″ the hospital said in a statement.

The physicians were competing with surgeons in Louisville, Ky., who said in July they expected to perform a similar operation by the end of the year.

``It gives hope to all those who are victims of domestic or work accidents, antipersonnel mines, or have congenital deformations,″ Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard, the head of transplant surgery at the Lyon hospital, told French television. Dubernard led the team with Earl Owen, director of the Center for Microsurgery in Sydney, Australia.

The patient was identified as an Australian businessman, France 2 television reported, adding it would take 12 to 18 months of therapy for him to regain full use of the hand.

While the hospital billed the surgery as a first, hand transplants have been attempted before. Doctors in Ecuador tried in the 1960s, but the patient’s body rejected the hand after two weeks.

The surgery involves serious risks. Patients must take anti-rejection medication that suppresses the immune system to keep the body from destroying the foreign tissue. But the suppression of the immune system leaves the patient more vulnerable to other diseases.

Even if the patient doesn’t reject the donor hand, he could face other problems, including the failure of nerves to regenerate sufficiently to allow sensation, such as hot and cold.

Other doctors on the team included Marco Lanzetta of the University of Milan, Italy; Hari Kapila of Sydney; and Nadey Hakim of Saint Mary’s Hospital in London.

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