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CNN Today

Jerry Fisher Discusses His Hand Transplant

Aired March 2, 2001 - 4:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: It is a procedure as amazing as it is intricate. Doctors in Kentucky have, within the past few weeks, transplanted a human hand. Doctors at the Jewish hospital in Louisville spent 13 hours attaching the donor left hand to patient Jerry Fisher. That happened on February 16th and into February 17th.

The procedure has been performed only once before in the United States.

CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joining us with more on this incredible event.

And you have a very special guest.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a very special guest with a very special hand. We'll be seeing him in a minute.

His name is Jerry Fisher and he lost his hand in a Fourth of July firecracker accident in 1996. They sought out a donor. They needed to find someone with the right sized hand and the right immunological characteristics, and they found him about two weeks ago and then had the surgery. So now we have Jerry Fisher with us to talk about the surgery and how he's been sick since.

Hello, Jerry.

JERRY FISHER, HAND TRANSPLANT RECIPIENT: Hi, Elizabeth. How are you?

COHEN: My first question is, what did you feel like when you woke up and later, a few days later, when they unwrapped your hand and you saw it for the first time, what went through your head?

FISHER: Well, I felt I was back to being me again. I missed my hand over the five years and it felt wonderful. It looks great and it's working really good too, actually.

COHEN: What can you do with it? Does it feel like your old hand already?

FISHER: Yes, it's like I never lost it, actually. It's surprising how well I took to it. The movement's been really good, the therapy is going great. COHEN: That's terrific, wow. Does it feel strange? I know this sounds a little bit weird, but when you look down at your hand, that's not really your hand, that hand once belonged to somebody else?

FISHER: Right. It doesn't feel strange. Actually, it feels, I feel blessed. And I want to thank the donor family again, and KODA, the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates that sought out the hand and matched me up, because they did such a wonderful job. It's as much me as my other one as far as I'm concerned.

COHEN: Wow. Now, Jerry, before this surgery, you were in perfect health, aside from the fact you didn't have your left hand. And now you are, sort of, immuno-compromised in some ways. You'll have to wear a mask at various times for the rest of your life. You run a higher risk of infection, a higher risk of certain diseases. Why did you decide to take that risk?

FISHER: As you asked me before, how it felt -- it feels wonderful and that outweighs everything for me. I've always been healthy and I feel that with that behind me, you know, that past healthy attitude, that I'll be able to deal with what they're -- the medication and everything that I'm taking.

COHEN: Now, Jerry, let's talk a little bit about what you do for a living. You have your own, your own gutter business, correct?

FISHER: Yes, we install seamless gutters back in Jackson, Michigan. And I started the business after I lost my hand out of necessity, and I had no problems doing the business, but there was always something missing. Now there's not.

COHEN: Jerry, thank you, and good luck with the rest of your recovery and your physical therapy.

FISHER: Well, I thank you. It's going wonderful. Thank you.

COHEN: Joie.

CHEN: I guess attitude is as important a part of the recovery process as anything. I mean there's all the technology but your head has to be in the right place to handle this?

COHEN: Absolutely. And that was one of the important things. There were many other people besides Jerry who wanted to have the surgery, and they looked for someone with certain psychological characteristics like that.

CHEN: He does seem to have a good attitude. We wish him luck.

COHEN: Absolutely.

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