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Hand Patient Moves New Fingers

Hand transplant patient Matthew Scott flexed his new fingertips ever so slightly Thursday, and one of his surgeons said he was almost out of danger of developing blood clots.

Scott, 37, underwent 14 hours of surgery Sunday and Monday at Louisville Jewish Hospital in the first operation of its kind performed in the United States. He lost his left hand in a 1985 fireworks accident and had been using a prosthesis ever since.
In a first, brief visit Thursday with two reporters and a photographer in his hospital room, Scott sat in a chair with his left hand and arm elevated and heavily bandaged. The nails and tips of his fingers were visible.

At Scott's request, no questions were directed to him or his wife, Dawn.

At the prompting of Dr. Warren C. Breidenbach, his hand surgeon, Scott made the fingers twitch faintly. Breidenbach said he was testing the tendons that control finger movement. There is no feeling in the hand, he said.

The bracing of Scott's hand and his physical therapy will be important, Breidenbach said in an interview later.

"I can tell you Matt's going to give it every effort - he's an excellent patient - but the biologic process is going to ultimately control what happens, and we don't know. This is uncharted territory," Breidenbach said.

Scott's fingers are watched closely for signs of clotting, but blood circulation in the hand has been good so far, Breidenbach said.

"He has gone through the first several days with good blood flow to the hand, Breidenbach said. "As each hour and as each day goes by, it becomes less and less likely that a blood clot or a spasm in the vessels will become a problem.

Another major concern is that Scott's immune system may reject the new hand. Breidenbach said a critical time for a possible rejection would be from five to six days to two weeks after surgery, but the threat of rejection could remain for several months.

Scott's long-range use of the new hand will be somewhat limited, but he should be able to perform common tasks like picking up a glass, opening a door or feeding himself, Breidenbach said. More complex movements, such as buttoning a button with one hand, will likely remain beyond his grasp.

Scott, a paramedic from Absecon, N.J., will remain at the hospital for three months, Breidenbach said. If all goes well, he will begin physical therapy within a week.