ANN JOHANSSON / UCLA Health System

Yuba City's Emily Fennell learns to use her new hand during a therapy session at UCLA in April. Fennell will be on a Rose Parade float Jan. 2.

Yuba City woman, recipient of hand transplant, to wave from Rose Parade float

Published: Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011 - 1:44 pm

Emily Fennell of Yuba City said she looks forward to waving from a Rose Parade float with either hand this year.

"I'm very excited about that," she said of the prospect of ambidextrous waving to the crowd from the Donate Life float at the Rose Parade on Jan. 2.

Fennell lost her right hand as a result of a rollover accident in 2006. Nine months ago, the office assistant became the West Coast's first hand-transplant patient, according to transplant experts.

Fennell, 26, is so accustomed to her new right hand, she can barely remember when she didn't have one.

"It's so second nature to have a right hand again," she said.

Fennell was a passenger in the front seat of a car that clipped the back of another vehicle on June 11, 2006, in Hermosa Beach. During the accident, her right hand was caught between her vehicle and the road, according to information from UCLA Health System Transplantation Services.

Doctors at UCLA Medical Center determined her hand was too badly injured to save and it was amputated.

At different times she was fitted with a prosthetic hand and a traditional hook prosthesis.

However, she stopped using the prostheses because she realized she could function about the same without them and they were not comfortable.

She still missed being able to teach her daughter how to tie her shoes and she longed to perform the simple task of putting her own hair up in a ponytail.

Even without a right hand, she was able type 40 words per minute and work as an office assistant for Yuba County. However, she has not been able to advance, because, without both hands, she could not reach 50 words per minute.

So Fennell had transplant surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in a 14-hour procedure beginning just before midnight March 4.

"It wasn't that long ago that transplantation of a hand was just a dream," said Dr. Kodi Azari, surgical director of the UCLA Hand Transplantation program.

Fennell said the hand is still not fully functional. She still can't put her hair up in a ponytail – but she can paint her own fingernails.

She will be one of 28 riders on the Donor Life float, representing organ and tissue donors, transplant recipients and candidates on waiting lists.

Tracy Bryan, spokeswoman for Sierra Donor Services, said those interested in signing up to be a donor can go online to www.donateLIFEcalifornia. org or through the DMV when applying for or renewing a driver's license.

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Read more articles by Bill Lindelof



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