BALTIMORE (CBSNewYork) – Successful hand transplants have been done for two decades, but they’re still pretty rare, especially both hands.
Doctors have to connect bones, tendons, arteries, nerves, veins, and of course, skin, reports CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez.READ MORE: Attorney Says Current Whereabouts Of Brian Laundrie, Gabby Petito's Fiancé, Are Unknown
Then comes the hard part, learning to use the hands. That’s where Deb Kelly’s spirit comes in.
It started out as what Kelly felt was just a cold, but she quickly spiraled into a coma.
“I remember waking up at one point and looking at my hands, and they were black,” she said.
She was suffering an invasive strep infection that had become sepsis. To save Deb’s life doctors had to amputate both hands and both legs.
After those procedures, it was months of rehab, adapting to prosthetic.
Numerous surgeries, rehab and re-learning to do all of the activities she loves at times took their toll.
“There were those nights when, you know I would just sit there and cry,” she said. “But no, I’m here for a reason. Something made me survive.”
Deb moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to be with her sister and because Duke University doctors decided she was an ideal candidate for a rare double hand transplant.READ MORE: Teen Stabbed To Death After Dutchess County High School Football Game, Former Student Charged
“The woman who is going to donate her hands to me is alive right now and walking around and doesn’t know and I pray every night for her and for her family,” said Kelly.
On Thanksgiving night, she got the call. Dr. Linda Cendales and a team of 40 performed the operation as part of a clinical trial, and 14 hours later, Deb’s sister Michelle got her first look.
Two weeks later, Deb left the hospital for months of rehab.
“I have hands that move, I can feel them, I can feel the muscles,” she said. “I don’t have any feeling yet. That takes a long time, but I have hands.”
Just yesterday, Deb got to meet the huge team that made her transplant possible.
“They’re all so great,” she said.
Kelly will have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life, and she has a lot of hard work still ahead to learn to use her new hands.MORE NEWS: Caught On Video: Carmine's Hostess Attacked After Asking Tourists For Proof Of Vaccination
A lot of that depends on her nerves growing into the hands, but she just reported a little feeling in her fingers, so it’s getting there.