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The following is an archived video story. The text content of that video story is available below for reference. The original video has been deleted and is no longer available.

SIU Begins First Hand Transplant Program in the State

Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine is looking to change the lives of patients who have suffered from an upper extremity amputation by launching the first hand transplant program in Illinois.

Doctors, surgeons, patients at the Institute for Plastic Surgery at SIU are beyond excited to kick start the first clinical hand transplant program in the state of Illinois, and its taking place in the capital city.

You hear of kidney transplants, you hear of liver transplants, but it's not often that you hear of hand transplants.

"We have been thinking about hand transplants for years," said Dr. Michael Neumeister Chair of the Department of Surgery at SIU. "In 1999, the first hand transplant took place, and since that time there have almost been 100 different transplants that have been performed worldwide."

SIU School of Medicine will have the 11th hand transplant program in the nation, where surgeons attach a donor hand to a patient who's had a hand amputated.

"We have a unique expertise and surgical ability to do a hand transplant program as well as support from Memorial Medical Center to do it," said Dr. Bradford West the Director of the Hand Transplant Program.

The Memorial Medical Center Foundation provided a $2.8 million grant to kick start the new program. The grant is expected to cover the costs for the first five patients over three years.

Doctors describe the proceedure as life changing.

"Patients are left with prosthetics or nothing at all," said Neumeister. "The prosthetics don't have sensation, they don't have the same fine motor activities that we have in our hand, so subsequently, a hand transplant makes a lot of sense and gives them a lot of function."

A new functioning hand that has to be a perfect match, both inside and out.

"We have to match skin color, skin tone, hair patterns, arm and hand size including bone size," said SIU resident Dr. Shaun Mendenhall. "Everything not only matches up perfect during surgery but also so the patient has the best physical appearance after."

After doctors find a match, a team of highly trained and highly skilled surgeons spend 12-to-24 hours in surgery attaching the new hand.

"The team needs the expertise to do the microsurgery," said Dr. Neumeister. "If you could imagine we are going to bring in the microscope and hook up the small arteries, and nerves, and tendons, and muscles, after we do the bone connection."

After surgery is complete, patients have months of hand therapy followed by lifelong immuno suppression drugs to help prevent the hand from rejecting the body.

"There is a lot to learn in transplantation," said Dr. Neumeister. "We need to improve the immunology and we need to improve the outcome of these patients this is the next step to that end."

Doctors at SIU School of Medicine are currently looking for amputee candidates.

The hand transplantation is an option for people who have lost one or both hands below the elbow.

SIU Hand Transplant Program

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