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Helping Hand For Matthew Scott

(As reported 2/9/99)
The nation's first hand transplant recipient said Tuesday that he just smiled and smiled when he first got a look at his new hand.

In his first public appearance since undergoing groundbreaking reconstructive surgery, Matthew Scott was already counting on ten fingers the things he's looking forward to doing, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.

"To pick up both my sons with two hands, both of 'em at the same time," Scott said. "I can't do that now."

Scott, a 37-year-old paramedic, received the hand just over two weeks ago. He lost his left hand 13 years ago in an accident with an M-80, a powerful firecracker. He is one of only two people in the world with a transplanted hand. The other is an Australian who underwent the graft in France in September.

Scott told reporters that he was experiencing 'phantom' sensations in his hand, but not much else.

"What I'm experiencing is called "phantom pain" and that is a sensation that I experienced 13 years ago after my injury," he said. "As far as physical pain in the hand or in the wrist or in the attachments, no, I don't feel that at all."

During the weekend, Scott saw his sons, Ian, 7, and Jeremy, 2, for the first time since the transplant.

Scott said his young sons are intrigued by the new hand and consider the elaborate brace shielding it "a pretty cool gizmo."

Scott, a resident of Absecon, N.J., received the left hand of a cadaver on Jan. 25. He has spent recent days moving into a temporary residence near Jewish Hospital. He will live there while he undergoes three months of therapy.

Doctors have been pleased with blood circulation in the transplanted hand and have seen no signs that Scott's body is rejecting it.

But Scott is far from being out of the woods. He must undergo hours of intense physical therapy and a lifetime of taking powerful drugs that will weaken his immune system in order to prevent his body from rejecting the new hand.

Other surgeons monitoring Scott's success admit it's an important milestone, but say the future of transplant surgery rests on improving medical developments and drugs that tackle the problem of rejection.

"If we can just get control of this rejection response we technically have the ability to put these parts where they belong and I think that is the wave of the future," says Dr. Lloyd Hoffman of the New York Weill Cornell Center.

For Scott, it is the everyday things his new hand will help him with. He teaches classes for paramedics and hopes to be able to hold a book flat in his new left hand while writing on a chalk board with his right.

"There are so many tiny little things in life that two hands vs. one can make so much easier," Scott said.

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