Double Hand Transplant Patient Released from Jewish Hospital

Louella Aker, 69, discharged Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Louella Aker, double hand transplant patient, with Dr. Tuna Ozyurekoglu, lead surgeon, Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center (Photo: Business Wire)

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LOUISVILLE, Ky.--()--A Jeffersonville, Ind. woman, who become the first female hand transplant recipient in Kentucky on September 17, 2016, was released from the hospital today, November 23, 2016.

During a 17-hour procedure in September, Louella Aker underwent a double hand transplant at Jewish Hospital. The 69-year-old acquired an infection while involved in the cleanup of Henryville, Ind. after an EF4 tornado hit the area on March 2, 2012. Aker was later diagnosed with septicemia and underwent a bilateral, below-the-knee amputation on her legs, left forearm amputation, and right partial hand amputation. Aker was added to the organ donor registry on September 18, 2015.

Following her surgery in September, Aker was placed on immunosuppressive medications to prevent rejection of her new hands. Doctors closely monitored Aker for signs of rejection and adverse reaction to medications. She has shown no signs of clinical rejection at this time.

“It is truly a miracle that I received these new hands,” said Aker. “Every single day, I wake up and am thankful for this opportunity that I have been given. My heart goes out to the family of the donor for what they have been through, but I thank them for this gift they have given me. I will always consider them family. My family and I will always be grateful to them.”

“Ms. Aker is doing extremely well two months after her bilateral hand operation,” said Christopher Jones, MD, director of abdominal transplantation and associate professor of surgery, University of Louisville and Jewish Hospital. “She is tolerating her immunosuppression medications, and from her most recent protocol biopsy has shown no signs of rejection. This extraordinary accomplishment highlights the skill and dedication of our phenomenal group of physicians, nurses, coordinators, pharmacists and therapists, who are privileged to care for our patients and their families.”

Aker is the tenth patient to receive a hand transplant from the Louisville Vascularized Composite Allograft (VCA) program. The program is a partnership of physicians, researchers and healthcare providers from Jewish Hospital, part of KentuckyOne Health; the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Microsurgery (CMKI); the Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center; and the University of Louisville.

As a result of Aker’s bones healing, and continued wrist strength and stability, she now wears anti-claw splints on her hands throughout the day. These splints help prevent Aker from having an abnormal hand position, which can develop due to a problem with the ulnar nerve.

“These splints allow more natural function of the hands,” said Tuna Ozyurekoglu, MD, lead surgeon, Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center. “We are working to increase isolated finger movements, as well as the grip and lateral pinch strengths of each hand. Currently, her lateral pinch, where an object is held between the thumb and index finger, allows her to hold and eat a cracker. Holding both hands together, she is also able to arrange a blanket in her lap. Ms. Aker is finding a new task on a daily basis with her new hands.”

In 2013, the Louisville VCA program was awarded $850,000 to fund a clinical trial of a new treatment that will help prevent rejection of transplanted hands as part of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) research program. AFIRM II is a five-year, $75 million federally funded project that will focus on applying regenerative medicine to battlefield injuries. Results of this trial will be far-reaching and benefit not only military patients, but all hand transplant recipients.

The AFIRM II funding enables Louisville VCA researchers to explore the potential for a cell-based therapy to help control the immune system’s response to a hand transplant, with a goal to lessen or eliminate the need for immune-suppressant drugs.

The Louisville VCA team developed the pioneering hand transplant procedure and has performed hand transplants on 10 patients since 1999. The clinical trial is led by Dr. Tuna Ozyurekoglu, MD, with research at the CMKI and the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, a partnership of Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence and the University of Louisville.

Funding for the surgical procedure was provided by the Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s Foundation, part of KentuckyOne Health.

Recent video of Louella Aker’s hand therapy session can be found at https://youtu.be/yq-T4qFOmYc. For additional video and photos of her surgery, and other information about hand transplantation, go to www.handtransplant.com.

Contacts

KentuckyOne Health
Barbara Mackovic, 502-587-4230 or 502-641-5461
Senior Manager
barbaramackovic@kentuckyonehealth.org

Release Summary

A Jeffersonville, Ind. woman, who become the first female hand transplant recipient in Kentucky on September 17, 2016, was released from the hospital today, in time for Thanksgiving Day.

Contacts

KentuckyOne Health
Barbara Mackovic, 502-587-4230 or 502-641-5461
Senior Manager
barbaramackovic@kentuckyonehealth.org