Man with hand transplant to go home
A Michigan man who became the nation's third successful hand transplant recipient expects his new right hand to get a workout holding a fishing rod once he returns home. David Savage, an auto-parts plant supervisor from Bay City, Mich., will go home Saturday to continue his painstaking therapy following his 15-hour surgery Nov. 29 at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. The nation's first two hand transplant recipients underwent surgery at the same hospital.
Savage said Friday that his new hand is getting stronger and more flexible.
"I'm getting more movement out of the fingers and thumb," he said in an interview. "Sensation is starting to come back. I'm feeling a lot of things that I didn't feel at first."
Savage, 54, said he feels a tingling sensation in his right palm and sometimes gets "little shooting pains into the fingertips." He said he can feel cold sensation with the hand but still doesn't feel anything hot.
He lost his right hand in a machine press accident more than 30 years ago. After his accident, Savage used a prosthetic device.
Savage, who wears a brace on the new hand, said he expects to return to work in about a month, and looks forward to using it for "basic, everyday life stuff."
"I can't wait to get out fishing and use two hands," he said.
But he won't push it. He'll cast with his left hand until he gets a stronger grip with his new hand.
"But I will be able to hold the pole with the right hand," he said.
He was right-handed until his accident, then learned how to throw and write with his left hand.
Savage has started writing with his new hand after mastering how to grip a pen. He said he'll use the new hand to write instructions for the workers he supervises.
"Maybe they'll be able to read it," Savage said, laughing.
Savage said he's been throwing a small football with the right hand, keeping his relatives on their toes. He tried to surprise one family member recently by tossing the ball.
"I just picked it up and whipped it at him," Scott said.
Dr. Warren Breidenbach, the lead transplant surgeon, said Savage has made good progress.
Savage received the new hand from a donor who died the day he underwent the surgery.
One difference between Savage and the other two patients at Jewish Hospital is that Savage's drug regimen to try to keep his body from rejecting his new hand doesn't include steroids, which carry such potential harmful side effects as diabetes, hypertension and high blood pressure.
Keeping transplant patients off steroids, Breidenbach said, would be a "huge step forward."
The doctor said it will take another three months or so for Savage to get feeling in his fingertips, and the progress will continue for several years. "It's steady and slow."
Matt Scott of Mays Landing, N.J., who lost his left hand in a fireworks accident in 1985, received the first successful hand transplant at Jewish Hospital in 1999. The medical team at Jewish performed a second hand transplant in February 2001 on Jerry Fisher, a Michigan contractor.
Savage was released from Jewish Hospital on Dec. 8 and had been staying at a local hotel while undergoing therapy. He'll return to Louisville in June for a checkup.
Savage said he finds himself flexing the fingers on his new hand.
"It's like a new toy," he said. "You're just going to play with it for awhile."
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