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Double Arm Transplant Success

 A 33-year-old Frenchman who received a double hand transplant is doing well Saturday morning. CBS News Correspondent Tom Fenton has the story.


In a 17-hour operation on Thursday, a team of surgeons gave the recipient the hands and forearms of a teenager killed in an accident. The man lost his own hands in a fireworks explosion in 1996. This is just the third successful hand transplant in history and the first involving both hands.


The patient is listed "in very satisfactory condition" at the Edouard-Herriot Hospital in the southwestern French city of Lyon.


"I've just left his room, and at this stage everything's going well," said Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard, the hospital's head of transplant surgery who led the medical team.


"It was a long operation," he said. "The first thing he asked for afterward was to sooth the pain."


Dr. Dubernard added that the color of the patient's new limbs looked encouraging shortly after the surgery.


The patient's forearms were severed in 1996 when a handmade model rocket he was trying to launch exploded before takeoff. Dubernard said the man was a good candidate for the groundbreaking operation because of his strong personality.


"We chose him because he is tenacious, motivated, and persistent," the doctor told reporters, adding the patient took up running marathons in the years following his accident.


Identities of both the patient and the donor are being withheld.


Dr. Dubernard and his fellow surgeons know these operations have risks with tissue rejection the top concern. The patient must take powerful drugs to keep his immune system from rejecting the grafted tissue. At the same time, suppressing the immune system can make the patient more vulnerable to infection.


Another doctor on the team was quick to point out that such procedures do have an advantage. "These transplants are done on well patients, not like the transplants of a heart, liver, or a kidney," said Doctor Earl Owen, director for the Center for Microsurgery in Sydney, Australia.


Besides tissue rejection, the patient could face other problems like failure of the nerves to regenerate sufficiently to allow sensation such as hot and cold.


The transplant's 50-person medical team included 18 surgeons from across the globe, among them Dr. Dubernard, Dr. Owen, and British surgeon Nadey Hakim of Saint Mary's Hospital in London. The surgeons met before Christmas to prepare for the operation, but no donor was available at the time. Most of the same team also conducted the world's first successful hand and forearm transplant at the same hospital in September 1998.


Dubernard and Owen led that transplant on Clint Hallam, a 49-year-old New Zealander. The surgeons say Hallam has experienced no significant signs of tissue rejection since his operation. In fact, Hallam has been photographed playing the piano and holding a cellular phone with his new hand.
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