Since 2001, more than 1,600 troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have had to undergo some kind of amputation.
Here at home, nearly two million people are living without a limb.
Now, a unique clinical trial that’s taking the technology of transplants to a whole new level could help our soldiers and our loved ones.
To Linda Lu, five fingers never looked so good. 20 years ago, she lost her left hand to a rare childhood disease. Now, thanks to doctor Linda Cendales and her team at Emory University, she has a new hand and new hope.
"It's remarkable. I can't even begin to fathom what went into it” said Lu.
Donor hands are matched by gender, skin pigmentation, size and blood type. Just three hours after the limb for Linda became available, the intricate 19 hour procedure, incorporating surgical techniques from organ transplant and microsurgery, was underway.
"We connected approximately 33 structures, including bones, nerves, vessels, tendons, and the skin” said hand transplant surgeon Linda Cendales of Emory University.
It will take a few more months for Linda to have sensation in the new hand, but the nails, and even the hair on it, are already growing.
"I've already accepted the hand as mine. I smile every time I look at it” said Lu.
Working four hours a day with her therapist increases her functionality and dexterity.
It’s a gift Linda says she’ll never take for granted.
"I want to remember the first time I saw it every time I look at it. I never want to lose that feeling, and I don't feel like I ever would” said Lu.
Linda is one of 14 people who have undergone this hand transplant surgery.
Doctor Cendales says her patients have experienced various degrees of sensation and fundtion.
She adds, every one who has a hand transplant rejects it at some point. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll lose their hand. Doctors say rejection can be resolved with immunosuppressant treatments.