Stories of Hope: Emily Fennell


A couple of months after receiving the first hand transplant in the western United States, Emily Fennell is so accustomed to her new right hand that she barely remembers when she didn’t have one.

The 26-year-old from Yuba City, underwent transplant surgery earlier in March 2011 at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, a 14-hour procedure that began just before midnight on March 4.

“It has been surreal to see that I have a hand again, and be able to wiggle my fingers,” said Fennell, a single mother. My 6-year-old daughter has never seen me with a hand. She looked at it, touched it and said it was ‘cool.’”

Fennell lost her hand after it was crushed in a roll-over car accident in June 2006. She was right-handed prior to the accident. After the amputation, occupational therapists helped her learn how to use her left hand for all tasks, including tying her shoes, writing, dressing and even driving a car. She had tried a myoelectric prosthetic hand, which uses electrical impulses in the muscle, as well as a traditional “hook” prosthesis, but stopped using those after realizing that they did not provide her the functionality she desired.

But she always missed doing the “little things” that get taken for granted, such as putting her hair in a ponytail or cutting up a steak while dining at a restaurant. She researched hand transplantation and became excited about the possibilities that a new hand could provide, including the potential to provide more fully for her daughter, become more independent and achieve greater success in her career.

“I know it will take time to get there, but my goal is to function like I have two normal hands and not even have to think about it,” Fennell said.

Fennell’s transplant was made possible by the generosity of the family of a deceased donor in San Diego.
“I cannot thank my donor enough for this amazing gift,” Fennell said. “It’s helping me feel whole again, and I intend to use it to the fullest.

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