Resident of Jeffersonville, Ind.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Nov. 23, 2016) — Louella Aker, a Jeffersonville, Ind. resident who become the first female hand transplant recipient in Kentucky, was released today from Jewish Hospital. The 17-hour procedure took place Sept. 17.
Aker, 69, 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 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.”
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.
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.