Originally created 02/16/99

Man with transplanted hand hopes proceedure will become commonplace

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Matthew Scott smiles as he ponders the personal triumphs he longs to achieve with his famous new left hand -- like slipping on his wedding ring and hoisting his two young sons.

"I'm very well aware of what I've been lucky enough to receive," said Scott, 37, the nation's first hand transplant recipient.

But even while he rejoices, Scott reflects on others who've lost hands or other limbs and are waiting for their own medical miracles. Scott said he hopes they'll someday savor his joy and new outlook on life.

"If this goes well ... I just hope to be the first step of many steps," the paramedic from Absecon, N.J., said in an interview last week.

"In 20 or 30 years, I'd like to be forgotten," Scott said. "I hope in 20 or 30 years the science of transplantation and working with limbs has become so commonplace that I'm a footnote and not the story."

Others already have already volunteered to follow in Scott's footsteps. Carrie Marcell, hand transplant coordinator at Jewish Hospital, said more than 100 people have contacted her since Scott's historic 14 1/2 -hour operation Jan. 24-25 at the Louisville hospital.

Surgeons hope to perform several other hand transplants to gain a more thorough understanding of the procedure's effects. A couple of other people have cleared the review process and are deemed appropriate candidates for hand transplants, Ms. Marcell said.

"Once the surgery was done, it really started picking up," she said. "We're constantly evaluating patients and have had a lot of interest. It's from all over the United States and from other countries."

The hospital has heard from people in Germany, Japan, India, South Africa, Turkey, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil and the Middle East, she said.

Potential candidates are put through medical, psychiatric and psychological tests. Their medical histories are scrutinized and they are bluntly told of the risks associated with the medication that suppresses the immune system, which is necessary to prevent the body from rejecting the foreign tissue in the new hand, taken from a cadaver.

Some callers have asked about transplants to restore feet or lower legs, but they have been turned away.

There is only one other man in the world with a transplanted hand, an Australian who underwent the graft in France in September. An attempt at a hand transplant was made in the 1960s, but it failed. Scott hasn't talked with the Australian recipient, but hopes to someday.

Scott said he considers the new hand his own, and has marveled at the similarity in size and color with his right hand.

The new hand also offers a chance to blot out his own tragedy when his left hand was blown off in a fireworks explosion.

"I certainly think I've been given the ability to go back and right, in my mind, what was wrong and to perhaps put to rest an unfortunate event that happened in my life 13 years ago," he said.

"Is it a new lease on life? It's a different lease. It's a way to look at life differently now than I have for the past 13 years."

Scott has moved out of Jewish Hospital and into a temporary residence near the hospital. He goes through hours of therapy daily, hoping to realize the full potential of his new hand.

But he dwells on small accomplishments that carry great personal importance.

"Certainly one of the things that I can't wait to do is to get my wedding ring on my left hand," he said.

A natural left-hander, Scott also hopes to sign his name with his new hand.

Doctors have been pleased with his recovery and say there are no signs that his body is rejecting the transplant.

But how would he react if things went awry and he lost his new hand?

"I will certainly be disappointed, there is no getting around that," he said. "This is, for somebody in my situation, the Holy Grail, I guess you could say. And to have it in your hand, so to speak, and then not, would be a great disappointment."


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