Yuba City mom looks forward to doing the 'little things' again

Emily Fennelll, who lost her right hand in an auto accident in 2006, listens as Dr. Kodi Azari, surgical director of the UCLA Hand Transplantation Program, describes Fennell's surgery at a news conference at UCLA Medical Center on April 19, 2011.
Emily Fennelll, who lost her right hand in an auto accident in 2006, listens as Dr. Kodi Azari, surgical director of the UCLA Hand Transplantation Program, describes Fennell's surgery at a news conference at UCLA Medical Center on April 19, 2011. Reed Saxon/AP Photo

Last month, surgeons at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center carried out the first hand transplant on the West Coast. It’s now six weeks since the operation and on Tuesday the woman who got the hand talked about the surgery and her outlook.

Emily Fennell, 26, of Yuba City said she feels whole again after the procedure. Fennell’s hand was crushed during a car accident almost five years ago. Doctors couldn’t save it.

Fennell discovered UCLA’s hand transplant program nearly a year ago and last month doctors attached a hand that generally matched her size and skin tone. The hand came from a deceased donor in San Diego.

At a UCLA news conference, Fennell joined surgeon Kodi Azari and other medical staffers that performed the 14-hour procedure. Fennell, who works in an office, said she’s looking forward to typing again.

“Right now I can type 45 words a minute with my left hand. I look forward to being able to type with my right hand now and advance even further with that," she said.

After some chuckles, Azari chimed in: “I think the chuckle is no one else can do 45 words a minute with two hands. But that also shows you her determination. Why Emily became a candidate, in my opinion, was I felt early on that if I told her she can’t do something she was going to prove me wrong.”

Doctors joined blood vessels, nerves and tendons but it will take some time before Fennell can feel her hand. She’s taking medication to keep her body from rejecting it.

Fennell says her 6-year-old daughter, who’s never really known her mom to have two hands, thinks the new one is “cool.”

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