The operation is quite extensive and typically lasts from 8–12 hours. By comparison, a typical heart transplant operation lasts 6 to 8 hours. Surgeons usually connect the bones first, followed by tendons, arteries, nerves, veins, and skin.
The recipient of a hand transplant needs to take immunosuppressive drugs similar to other transplants such as kidneys or livers, as the body’s natural immune system will try to reject, or destroy, the hand. These drugs cause the recipient to have a weaker immune system which may lead to an increased risk of infections and some cancers. There have been many advances in solid organ transplantation over the years that have made these medications quite tolerable.
After the transplant, there is a period of extensive hand therapy/rehabilitation which helps the recipients regain function of the transplanted hand. Those patients who are dedicated to taking the medications and performing the physical therapy following a hand transplant have had remarkable success in regaining function of the new hands/arms.
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