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Duke doctors perform state's first hand transplant

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Duke Health doctors are celebrating a major milestone - North Carolina's first hand transplant. (WTVD)

Duke Health doctors are celebrating a major milestone - North Carolina's first hand transplant.

The 12-hour long surgery happened last week and the 54-year-old patient is said to be doing well.

Rene Chavez, who lives in Texas, learned about the procedure online.

"Three years ago, I was surfing the Internet and I found out about this, and that's when I realized that I had a chance to know how it feels. Because I lost it when I was very little," he said through an interpreter during a press conference Wednesday.

Chavez's hand was severed in a childhood accident.

Now - 50 years later - a team of 17 surgeons worked to connect the veins, nerves and bone in from the anonymous donor's hand with the patient's arm.

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Doctors perform the state's first hand transplant

It's a medical breakthrough that has positive implications.

"For our service men and women returning from deployment with amputations and other significant injuries," said Dr. Linda Cendales with Duke Hand Transplant Program.

The Duke Health team will monitor the progress of the transplant. Chavez can already move some fingers, after significant progress.

"Where the nerves grow, like the roots of a plant, from his arm into the donors hand. And that's going to be the real test of whether this is a success," said Dr. David Ruch with Duke Division of Hand Surgery.

He's taking anti-rejection drugs during the rehabilitation process. It will take a while for veins, nerves and bone to fully connect.

"And ultimately that is going to provide him with the satisfaction of having a new hand," said Dr. Ruch.

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