Double-hand transplant recipient goes home in time for Thanksgiving

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky’s first female double-hand transplant recipient was released from the hospital Wednesday, just in time to spend Thanksgiving with her family. Louella Aker had been recovering at Jewish Hospital since her 17-hour surgery on September 17.

“It’s amazing to look at my hands and to think science could do something as wonderful as this,” said Aker.

The 69-year-old’s hands and legs were amputated in 2012 after doctors believe she got an infection cleaning up debris from the Henryville tornado. She was put on the organ donor registry in 2015. In September 2016, a good match was found.

Aker admits the transition from hands to no hands to prosthetics to new hands has been more difficult than she expected.

"In a fairy tale world,” said Aker with a laugh, “Where I thought, ‘Oh I'm getting new hands!’ I had the idea that they would kind of just stick on the ends and automatically work."

Through the entire process, doctors and nurses have been impressed with Aker’s strength, determination, and uplifting attitude.

The lead surgeon, Dr. Tuna Ozyurekoglu, said Aker is making great progress. She has a good range of motion with her right hand and a limited range with her left hand, he said. The team of doctors, nurses, and therapists are all working together for Aker to gain her independence again with the use of her new hands.

With a smile on his face, Ozyurekoglu said, "She can hold things. She can comb her hair. She can feed herself with her right hand."

Aker is regaining sensation in her hands. While she can move her fingers, she can’t feel with them, yet. Ozyurekoglu explained success depends on Aker’s nerve and tendon recovery. The lead surgeon said it could take six to eight months for all her nerves to recover in the right hand. And it’ll take about a year for the left hand since surgeons used a different technique on that side.

"We did something really totally new for the left hand," said Ozyurekoglu. "We went for basically tendon transfers. And tendon transfers work the opposite way. We use things that would bend your wrist to extend your fingers. Things that extend your wrists, to bend the fingers. So she's learning that, and she's recovering."

Aker said her family saved her life by bringing her to Jewish Hospital and has helped her through the whole journey.

"They stepped out in faith that I could make it, that I would fight," said Aker.

And now she cannot wait to play with her grandchildren and hold their hands.

Aker said it’s difficult for her to find words to express her gratitude. But she’s so thankful for her team of doctors and nurses, her family, and her donor.

"While I was excited, they were going through a bad time for them," Aker said, thinking about her donor’s family. "But I certainly want them to know it's a wonderful, wonderful gift that they gave me. And a gift I intend to take care of and use in honor of their loved one."

Ozyurekoglu said in October that he would determine Aker’s transplants a complete success when she could knit and bake pies again. On Wednesday, he was pleased that she was so happy to go home. “Knitting and making pies is within our reach,” he said.

Click here for the original story about Aker's surgery. Click here for the story about the research being done through the surgery.

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