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Louisville Program’s Seventh Hand Transplant Recipient Marks Fourth Anniversary

For Immediate Release: 7/10/2015


For More Information:
Barbara Mackovic, Senior Manager, Media Relations
502.587.4230 or 502.641.5461                                                   


Louisville Program’s Seventh Hand Transplant Recipient Marks Fourth Anniversary

Louisville, Ky. (July 10, 2015)—Donnie Rickelman, the seventh hand transplant recipient from the Louisville Vascularized Composite Allograft (VCA) program, has regained much of his hand function and has returned to work for the first time since his accident in March 1998. He celebrated the fourth anniversary of his hand transplant today while in Louisville for his annual exam.

The Louisville Vascularized Composite Allograft (VCA) program is a partnership of physicians, researchers and health care providers from Jewish Hospital, part of KentuckyOne Health; the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Microsurgery (CMKI); the Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center; and the University of Louisville.

On July 10, 2011, Donnie Rickelman became the seventh patient at Jewish Hospital to undergo a hand transplant in a 14½-hour procedure performed by the Louisville VCA program.

Regular visits and evaluations are part of ongoing care for hand transplant recipients. These annual exams contribute significantly to the research portion of the Louisville program, which is funded by the Department of Defense and the Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s Foundation.

“Whether increasing his Carroll score (functional test) or showing off some fantastic new skill, Donnie always brings something exciting to share when he comes for his annual visit,” said Ashley Buren Emrich, interim director of therapy and orthotics, Christine M. Kleinert Institute.  “He can now golf, change out a water heater and lift up to 25 lbs. with his transplanted hand. Since he was here last year, he has been able to return to work for the first time since his initial injury. We can't wait to see what this visit brings!”

Rickelman, who resides in Linton, Indiana, was 36 at the time of his transplant. He lost his left hand in an accident involving a steel splitter machine.

“My hand is doing very well.  The past four years have flown by,” Rickelman said. “It's been the best years of my life! My wife and I could not be happier with the gift of hand transplantation and none of this would be possible without organ donation and those giving families, as well as the great work of everyone at Kleinert Kutz.”

“Donnie is a great example of how a hand transplant can really change a patient’s life,” said Tuna Ozyurekoglu, MD, with Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center, who now serves as the co-principal investigator of the Louisville VCA Program. “He has been committed to his therapy and to gaining function in his new hand.”
In addition to ongoing physical therapy, hand transplant patients continue immunosuppressant medication therapy to manage rejection.

“We continue to monitor all of our hand transplant patients on a regular basis in close collaboration with their hometown physicians, but see them here in Louisville for a full and complete check up and evaluation once a year,” said Rosemary Ouseph, MD, with UofL Physicians, who oversees the immunosuppressant medication plan for the hand transplant recipients. “Donnie’s medication therapy remains steady and he continues to make significant progress year over year.”

The Louisville VCA program developed the pioneering hand transplant procedure and has performed hand transplants on nine patients since 1999. The program marked the 15th anniversary of its first and the world’s most successful hand transplant in 2014. 

“The hand transplant program is changing the lives of these recipients in remarkable ways, but none of our work would be possible without the generosity of donors and donor families who make the decision to choose organ donation to save and enhance the lives of others,” said Michael Marvin, MD, transplant surgeon, Jewish Hospital, associate professor of surgery at the University of Louisville and co-principal investigator of the hand transplant program.
Video and photography of Rickelman throughout his hand transplant journey can be found at


About KentuckyOne Health
KentuckyOne Health, the largest and most comprehensive health system in the Commonwealth, has more than 200 locations including, hospitals, physician groups, clinics, primary care centers, specialty institutes and home health agencies in Kentucky and southern Indiana. KentuckyOne Health is dedicated to bringing wellness, healing and hope to all, including the underserved.  The system is made up of the former Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s HealthCare and Saint Joseph Health System, along with the University of Louisville Hospital and James Graham Brown Cancer Center. KentuckyOne Health is proud of and strengthened by its Catholic, Jewish and academic heritages.

About the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Micro Surgery
Named in honor of Dr. Kleinert's mother, the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Micro Surgery (CMKI) is a world-renowned nonprofit education and research organization.  The physicians of the Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center teach the next generation of hand surgeons through CMKI’s accredited fellowship program, which is cooperative effort with the University of Louisville School of Medicine. The Fellows are fully trained plastic, orthopedic, or general surgeons from around the world who come to Louisville to get additional training in hand and micro surgery. To date, more than 1,274 physicians from 61 countries have served as Fellows. Dozens of research projects refining surgical techniques, testing new devices, and pushing the frontiers of basic and clinical science in the field of hand surgery are currently underway. CMKI also provides patient rehabilitation through the Hand Therapy Center and Orthotic Care Center. For more information, please visit or call 502.562.0310.

About the Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center
Kleinert Kutz is one of the largest hand care programs in the world, pioneering achievements in hand and microsurgery, research, therapy and orthotics. The 13 physicians of Kleinert Kutz offer expertise in orthopedic and plastic surgery and provide comprehensive care for the hand and arm. Kleinert Kutz’s significant achievements include the nation’s first five hand transplants, one of the world’s first cross-hand replantations, pioneered work in primary reconstruction using free tissue transfer and national award for research in blood flow to the nerve.  For more information, please visit or call 502.561.4263.

About the University of Louisville

The University of Louisville is Kentucky's metropolitan research university, with 22,000 students attending classes at 11 colleges and schools on three campuses. Bordered by its many medical partners, UofL's downtown Health Sciences Center is home to more than 3,000 students pursuing degrees in health-related fields with the Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Public Health and Information Sciences, as well as 14 interdisciplinary centers and institutes.


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For More Information...
Barbara Mackovic
Senior Manager

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