News Releases

News Releases

Hand Transplant Patient Happy with Progress

For Immediate Release: 8/11/2011

Louisville, Kentucky – Indiana resident Donnie Rickelman, the Louisville team’s seventh patient to receive a hand transplant, is showing continued improvement and better than expected range of motion.

Rickelman received a new left hand in a 14½ hour procedure at Jewish Hospital on Sunday, July 10, 2011. Joseph Kutz, M.D. with Kleinert Kutz & Associates led the 15-member team of hand surgeons.

“I'm very happy to receive the gift of a new hand, said Rickelman, age 36. “Everything is going great and I'm very happy with the progress.”

Rickelman’s medical team said he is showing excellent progress, including early motion in his fingers, wrist and forearm. Through physical therapy, he is now able to hold playing cards, turn nuts and bolts and grasp small objects between his thumb and index finger, exhibiting the return of fine motor skills.

“Donnie is showing tremendous improvement in therapy, but it is still important to allow more time for the tissues to heal,” said Kutz, co-investigator for the innovative procedure.  “His hand x-rays look good, but we will continue to keep him in the outrigger brace to ensure protection of the tendons and other soft tissues for the next couple of weeks.  After that we will include one pound weights in his therapy sessions.”

“Our patient works very hard in each therapy session and has made very quick progress,” said Laurie Newsome, hand therapist with Kleinert Institute for Hand & Microsurgery. “We’re challenging him with more complex function and dexterity tasks.”

Michael Marvin, M.D. said, “Donnie is doing remarkably well.  He is tolerating his medications and has no signs of significant rejection.”  Marvin is director of Transplantation at Jewish Hospital and associate professor of Surgery at the University of Louisville is the co-principle investigator of the composite tissue allotransplantation research project. He is overseeing the patient’s immunosuppressive therapy by closely monitoring him for signs of rejection and adverse reaction to medications with lab tests and biopsies. 

Marvin added, “We are using a standard regimen of medications while using other additional topical medications as needed to reduce complications. We are basing our combination of drugs on our established experience with solid organ transplantation such as liver, kidney and pancreas.”

Rickelman, a Linton, Indiana resident, injured both hands in a factory accident on March 9, 1998 when they were caught in a steel-splitter machine. His dominant right hand was crushed and his left hand partially amputated below the wrist, leaving a partial thumb and limited wrist movement with the left hand. While he remained independent, he struggled with the activities of daily living. 

The Composite Tissue Allotransplantation program is a partnership of physicians, researchers and healthcare providers at the Jewish Hospital Hand Care Center, Kleinert Kutz and Associates, the Christine M. Kleinert Institute and the University of Louisville. The group developed the pioneering hand transplant procedure and has performed a total of eight hand transplants on seven patients since 1999. Indiana Organ Procurement Organization in coordination with the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates arranged the hand donation for Rickelman’s hand transplant procedure.

The hand transplant is sponsored by the Department of Defense, Office of Naval Research and Office of Army Research to further research in the composite tissue allotransplantation program.
Patient and physician information are available at Recent B-roll and photos of Rickelman’s therapy session is available at


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Barbara Mackovic
Senior Manager

Jewish Hospital & St. Mary's HealthCare Kleinert Institute Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center University of Louisville School of Medicine