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Physical Therapy Paying Off For Hand Transplant Recipient

Three months after receiving a new left hand at Louisville’s Jewish Hospital, Donnie Rickelman says his recovery is going well.

The Linton, Indiana man was back at the hospital today for a checkup, and showed how far he’s progressed by wrapping a Christmas gift.

Rickelman says he’s always been comfortable with his transplanted hand.

“From day one, it’s felt like it was part of me. I’m great. It feels good, I’m happy with it,” he said.

Rickelman lost his left hand in a workplace accident. He was the seventh person to receive a transplant at Jewish Hospital.

Lead surgeon Dr. Joseph Kutz says two more transplants will likely be performed early next year.

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Local News Next Louisville

Transplant Recipient Getting Accustomed To New Left Hand

The Indiana man who received a hand transplant at Louisville’s Jewish Hospital earlier this month is speaking publicly for the first time about the procedure.

Thirty-six year old Donnie Rickelman lost his left hand in a factory accident thirteen years ago.

His new left hand, transplanted July 10, came from an undisclosed male donor from Rickelman’s home state of Indiana.

Rickelman says he already has some movement in his new hand and has begun long days of physical therapy that will continue for many months to come.

“I’d just like to do things normally again. When you lose a hand, everything changes, how you dress, brush your teeth, deodorant, the whole bit. I just want to able to be normal again,” he said.

Rickelman told WFPL Wednesday that he hopes to go back to work somewhere when his new hand is functional. He’s been on disability since his accident.

Donnie Rickelman is the seventh person to receive a new hand under the transplant program launched by Jewish Hospital and the University of Louisville in 1999.

“It’s very overwhelming and happy,” he said. “It’s been a long road and to know that you finally got what you’re after is a good thing.”

Click below to hear our entire interview with Donnie Rickelman:

Audio MP3

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Local News Next Louisville

Indiana Man Receives Hand Transplant At Jewish Hospital

Doctors say the latest recipient of a hand transplant at Louisville’s Jewish Hospital is recovering and being prepared for physical therapy.

Donnie Rickelman of Linton, Indiana, about a two hour drive northwest of Louisville, received a new left hand Sunday.

Rickelman’s left hand was partially amputated in a factory accident 13 years ago. The mishap with a steel splitter also crushed his right hand.

The transplanted left hand, from an anonymous donor, also came from Indiana.

“At the present time his hand is working well,” said Dr. Joseph Kutz, who led the 16-member surgical team.

“The reason it works well is because the attachment to the muscles is his own muscles, and his muscles have always been working, so it’s just a matter of putting the endpoint, which is the hand, on the end of the muscles, and the muscles are working well,” Kutz said at a Tuesday morning press conference.

Kutz says Rickelman will remain in Louisville for at least three months for intensive physical therapy and monitor his tolerance to anti-rejection drugs.

This was the eighth hand transplant performed at Jewish since 1999 and the first since the departure of Dr. Warren Breidenbach, who led the transplant team and is now practicing in Arizona.

Dr. Kutz says the hand transplant program remains strong and there could be another two operations performed over the next six months or so, but finding donors remains difficult.

“It’s easier to get a donor who will give up a kidney or heart or liver because when they’re in a casket, nobody knows those parts are missing.  But if you’re in a casket and have the person exposed, the hands are in the casket, so its very difficult for families to give up the hand, unless they’re going to cremate the body,” he said.

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Local News Next Louisville

Jerry Fisher Marks Tenth Anniversary Of Hand Transplant

The recipient of the nation’s second hand transplant returned Tuesday to Louisville’s Jewish Hospital to mark the tenth anniversary of the operation.

Jerry Fisher of Michigan had lost his left hand in a fireworks accident.

Fisher suffered a few setbacks following the 13-hour procedure, but says he’s doing well now.

“I’ve been asked, would I do it again, and I would. It was well worth it. And I can applaud just like everybody else now. I’m very thankful to be able to do that,” he said.

Fisher was joined at the celebration by Matt Scott, who was the first in the U.S. to receive a hand transplant, and Dr. Rich Edwards, who underwent a double hand transplant in August in Louisville.

(Pictured, from left: Matt Scott, Jerry Fisher and Dr. Rich Edwards)