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Friday, December 2, 2011

Brownies and breakthroughs - the story of human success

A century ago, limb transplantation was merely a fiction writer's dream. But as medical science has advanced, so too have the life-changing opportunities for amputees. "We are interchanging tissues to reconstruct the human body," said Dr. Linda Cendales 12G, assistant professor of surgery, Emory School of Medicine, at the November 17 program of Faculty Within Your Reach at Emory Hospital Midtown. The evening was moderated by Isabel Garcia 99L, Emory Alumni Board member and Lawyer for the Piedmont Law Group.

In her presentation, Dr. Cendales cited examples of successful larynx, face, abdominal wall, and dual limb transplantations ranging from 2 months after injury to 33 years. Cendales led the interdisciplinary Emory team that performed Emory's first hand transplant and only the 14th such transplant in the United States. Experts from dozens of University departments were involved in the treatment of Linda Lu, the young patient who benefited from a new hand. Cendales recalls when the limb was finally attached to Lu's body. "The moment of reanimation was wonderful. They release the tourniquet and fresh blood surges into a hand offering a future to our patient."

That wonder was remarkable for the patient as well. Cendales said, "A very important moment for her was the moment of bonding and seeing herself back again with two limbs. She took ownership of her hand. It was immediate."

Cendales explained that surgery was just the beginning for Lu. Lu continues to undergo physical therapy and emotional support from various University departments. By week 8, Lu was very dedicated to her occupational therapy. Her first session at the Mason House kitchen was noteworthy. Cendales said with a smile, "She learned that I like brownies." At her first cooking session, Lu learned to make the treats on her own. "They were the most special brownies I've ever tasted because she baked those using her left hand."

She recalls how she and Lu experienced momentous occasions together. "The small things are not small things. Lu shared with me just how incredible she felt the first time she could walk into the room and not have people turn around to stare at her amputation," Cendales revealed. "That's powerful."

Enthusiasm for patient care is universal, but the scholarly pursuit of excellence is also academic. By maximizing "shared brilliance" between University resources and centers of excellence, the transplantation team regularly brainstormed ideas and techniques to create new approaches. "Lu gave us the privilege that we could take care of her," she says. "This one case has given us many collaborations." In reflection, she added, "It's not the end of a process as we did our first transplant, but the beginning of a program."

To experience more engaging conversations like this one, the next Emory Alumni Association's Faculty Within Your Reach program will present “A Matter of Life or Death” on January 18, 2012 featuring Jay Ewart 03L and Emory Law Associate Professor Kay Levine. Jay Ewart 03L was fresh out of Emory law school when he took on a Georgia death penalty case pro bono, supported by his Washington, DC, law firm. Seven years later, after working tirelessly and very nearly successfully to get the sentence overturned, Ewart was the attorney Troy Davis requested in his execution chamber. Ewart and Levine will discuss the complexities of the case, its twists and turns, and the definitive outcome.

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