NC's first hand-transplant recipient happy with progress

Thursday, September 8, 2016
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Rene Chavez is making progress with his new hand.

DURHAM, NC (WTVD) -- After three months of intense therapy, the man who received the first hand transplant in the state, can finally move it.

Rene Chavez did not have a left arm for most of his life, but his surgeon and occupational therapist at Duke Health said he's made huge progress, and even started to regain some feeling in his new hand after four-hour therapy sessions every day.

Chavez said it's difficult to explain what the experience is like, but that he is happy about how the operation has turned out.

"Everything I do now is like, surprising," Chavez said in Spanish. "I don't know if that's the right answer, but what's happening now is like new. You start rediscovering everything, but I don't know how to explain it to you.

"There so many things that I thought I would never be able to, and now those things are happening and I feel happy. I'm happy," he added.

The 54-year-old Chavez, who lives in Texas, said some of the things he looks forward to the most are being able to play catch with his child and riding his bicycle without any special modifications.

Chavez lost his hand in a childhood accident.

RELATED: Duke doctor performs state's first hand transplant

His wife, Alicia Chavez, said she was a little bit anxious while he was in surgery, but could not be happier with the way things turned out.

"After the doctor came and gave me the news it was something, something marvelous to me," she said, tearing up a little.

When asked if he ever thinks about his donor, Rene Chavez said "more than anything, I think about his mother. It must've been very hard for her, and if one day she wants to meet the recipient, I'd be happy to."

Watch Dr. Linda Cendales explain more about Duke Health's hand transplant study

Chavez's surgeon, Dr. Linda Cendales, was pleased to announce there has been no tissue rejection thus far when it comes to the new hand.

Cendales said the inaugural hand transplant is part of a clinical study at Duke to test the use of Belatacept, a drug newly approved by the FDA to prevent tissue rejection after kidney transplants.

"One of the very exciting aspects also is that Mr. Chavez is allowing us to study further how the brain is adjusting to the new hand after not having it for 50 years," Cendales said.

Duke hopes the operation will be the first of five for the clinical study.

Learn more about Duke's clinical study program on hand transplants here.

"The requirements for anyone who wants to come to us is they need to be from 18 to 65 years old and have lost one or both hands below the elbow," Cendales said.

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Duke's first hand transplant is performed May 27, 2016. Led by surgeon Dr. Linda Cendales, two teams worked to attach a donor hand and forearm onto the left arm of Rene Chavez, 54. (Shawn Rocco/Duke Health)
Shawn Rocco/Duke Health

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