Local News

Man who received hand transplant at Duke has made 'phenomenal progress'

Posted September 8, 2016 3:57 p.m. EDT
Updated September 8, 2016 7:14 p.m. EDT

— In May, 54-year-old Rene Chavez, of Laredo, Texas, received a new left hand during a complex, 12-hour procedure performed by a team of 17 surgeons led by Dr. Linda Cendales, associate professor of surgery at Duke University School of Medicine and director of Duke's hand transplant program.

Three months after his surgery, he is continuing to show signs of progress, but the road to recovery has not been easy.

"The therapy after a procedure like this is very intense," said Cendales.

Occupational therapy, which helps to increase hand and finger coordination and strength, has been an everyday job for Chavez.

Cendales said Chavez is the first of five patients who will enroll in the study.

"He has made phenomenal progress in the short three months that he has been here," said Duke Physical Occupational Therapist Jody Moore.

Chavez said he is slowly starting to figure out his new hand.

"Little by little. Slowly, but I am discovering every day new things that I can do with my hand," he said.

Chavez's wife, Alicia, said the news of his progress has been good.

"I knew he was in good hands when (Cendales) came out and talked to me and gave me the good news. It was marvelous," Alicia Chavez said.

Rene Chavez will continue to travel to Duke once a month to receive infusions of the study drug, belatacept. The drugs is FDA approved for use in kidney transplants and is designed to block a pathway to project rejection.

Duke’s hand transplantation program was formed in 2014 after Cendales joined Duke’s Department of Surgery faculty from Emory University, where she served as the director of the Vascularized Composite Allotransplantation program and the Laboratory of Microsurgery.