NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A groundbreaking double hand transplant resulted in unforeseen consequences.

It’s a story about the power of modern medicine, but especially the resilience of one woman’s spirit.

The amazing surgery that gave Sheila Advento new hands is just part of the story. Then there’s the cruel twist of fate that will have you asking how much can one person endure. But it’s also about how someone may be able to help Sheila.

The story begins nine years ago, with CBS2’s Dana Tyler. In 2011, Advento was the picture of independence, putting on her makeup, sending an email. Those simple, everyday tasks were things the 33-year-old didn’t take for granted. She was using hands she wasn’t born with.

Sheila Advento after her life-threatening infection. (Credit: CBS2)

The Hackensack woman was the first woman in the U.S. to undergo a double hand transplant. That journey into medical history actually began even earlier.

“In 2003, I just remember around the 4th of July weekend, I remember feeling sick and I thought I caught the flu,” Advento said.

It wasn’t the flu. It was a bacterial infection known as meningococcal septicemia. Antibiotics would save Sheila’s life, but not her limbs.

“I looked down, and my hands were dead. They were dark purple almost, nearly black,” Advento said. “I saw that my feet had gangrene also.”

For More Information On How To Possibly Make An Organ Donation To Sheila Or Another Patient, Email livingdonation@wakehealth.edu Or Call 336-713-5685.

“Septicimia causes shock, which causes shutdown of blood flow to the limbs, especially the upper and lower limbs, which causes gangrene of the limbs,” said Dr. Vijay Gorantla of Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Sheila lost both legs and both hands to her infection. While leg prosthetics are reasonably good, hand prostheses are not.

“Very traumatizing. I lost my independence. I did everything. Then all of a sudden, I had no hands, no fingers, couldn’t fix my hair, put on makeup,” she said.

As with any transplant, Sheila’s been taking immuno-suppressing drugs to prevent rejection of her new limbs.

Turns out those essential drugs were a double-edged sword. They save her hands, but slowly destroyed her kidneys. Sheila needs another transplant, a kidney.

“When I lost my limbs, I never asked ‘Why me?’ I said there must be a reason to why this happened to me. I must have a purpose in life to why this happened to me. When I found out my kidneys were failing, that’s the point where it upset me. Like, what else can I go through?” she said.

Sheila’s now on the kidney waiting list at Wake Forest Baptist Health System in North Carolina, where her trusted hand surgeon, Dr. Vijay Gorantla, has moved to. Her wait time could be significantly shortened through the National Paired Kidney Donation Registry, a kidney swap where a living donor wouldn’t have to match.

“The donor who is mismatched can donate to another recipient on the list and a donor that is matched to her may donate in exchange,” Dr. Gorantla said.

“There is no specific amount of years they told me. I’m just hoping the turnaround will be quick enough,” Sheila said.

Sheila was understandably emotional during her interview with CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez, but Dr. Gorantla, who has known her for years since her hand transplant in Pittsburgh, said – and Gomez agrees – that she is one of the strongest, most resilient patients they’ve ever met. Fate has dealt her a tough hand but she’s fighting through it.

What she needs now is a good Samaritan to show her that life isn’t always cruel.

For More Information On How To Possibly Make An Organ Donation To Sheila Or Another Patient, Email livingdonation@wakehealth.edu Or Call 336-713-5685.

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