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News Releases

Jewish Hospital’s Seventh Hand Transplant Recipient Heads Home

For Immediate Release: 10/5/2011

Louisville, Ky.—Donnie Rickelman, the seventh recipient of a hand transplant at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, is expected to return to his home in Indiana this week.  He will continue physical therapy from home.

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.

“My experience in Louisville has been great.  I love the people here,” said Rickelman. “But the hardest part is being away from my family. I’m excited to get back to a regular routine and spend much needed time with my family.”

Rickelman’s medical team says he is showing excellent progress, and has now gained a full range of motion. Through physical therapy, he is able to button his pants, turn door knobs, cut meat, lift seven pounds and perform most ordinary tasks.

“Donnie’s therapy is progressing well,” said Kutz, co-investigator for the innovative procedure.  “At this point, he is progressing better than any of our previous patients.  This is due in large part to his dynamic force and outlook. His hand is in excellent condition.”

Kutz noted that Rickelman will have to watch for cold intolerance and potential rashes as he returns home, and that he will remain in close touch with his medical team as they continue to monitor his progress.
“Donnie is doing remarkably well,” said Michael Marvin, M.D., director of Transplantation at Jewish Hospital, associate professor of Surgery at the University of Louisville and co-principle investigator of the composite tissue allotransplantation research project at Jewish Hospital.  Marvin oversees Rickelman’s immunosuppressive drug therapy by closely monitoring him for signs of rejection and adverse reaction to medications with lab tests and biopsies.

Marvin added, “He’s had the occasional setback with minor changes in the skin, but these have been well controlled with steroids. We are using a standard regimen of medications while using other additional topical medications as needed to reduce complications. Donnie has had two mild rejection episodes, but has since seen much improvement.”

Rickelman, a 36-year old 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.

“This really is a dream come true,” said Rickelman. “I’m so thankful for the donor who really gave me a new lease on life.”

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