Penn patient undergoes double hand transplant

A quadruple amputee received two hands in rare and challenging double transplant surgery in September, the University of Pennsylvania has announced.

Penn declined on Monday to identify her, at her request. The patient wanted more time to benefit from therapy before speaking to reporters, said Penn Health System spokeswoman Olivia Fermano.

Details and photos of the surgery will be presented at a news conference Tuesday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. A 30-member team worked for 111/2 hours to attach blood vessels, bone, nerves, and soft tissue.

While Penn is the sixth U.S. medical center to transplant hands, the patient is believed to be only the fifth to undergo a double hand (bilateral) operation. The first single hand transplant was done in France in 1998.

When Penn officials announced the program last year, it was restricted to bilateral patients because their level of disability more clearly justifies the medical risks. The loss of limbs is not necessarily lethal, yet replacing them requires patients to take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of their lives, just as organ recipients do.

Also, physical therapy to learn to use the transplanted hands is grueling and lengthy.

Contact staff writer Marie McCullough at 215-854-2720 or