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Health

Former Marine feels 'great' following hand transplant

Luis Fábregas
| Thursday, April 2, 2009

Surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center today said a former Marine who received a hand transplant on March 14 is showing no signs of rejection and is expected to regain full use of his new hand.

Josh Maloney, 24, of Bethel Park lost his right hand two years ago in an explosion during a military training exercise in Quantico, Va. He is the first patient to receive a hand transplant at UPMC and the sixth in the United States.

Using his forearm muscles, Maloney has been able to move his fingers, even though some of his nerves have not had enough time to regenerate, his doctors said at a press conference this morning.

"I feel great," said Maloney. "It's the opportunity of the lifetime. I get my life back."

He was accompanied by his parents, Mark and Patti Maloney, at the hospital this morning.

Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, chief of UPMC's division of plastic and reconstructive surgery, said Maloney has started a novel regimen of anti-rejection medication. The so-called Pittsburgh protocol will allow doctors to wean Maloney off the immunosuppressive drugs he began taking the day after the transplant.

Those drugs often have harmful side-effects, including development of high blood pressure and diabetes.

"In the short term, if he continues to do well, we will gradually decrease the dosage," Lee said. "If he can be weaned off completely, that obviously would be ideal."

As part of the protocol, Maloney earlier this week received an infusion of bone marrow cell from the hand donor.

Maloney, a 2002 graduate of Bethel Park High School, is expected to be discharged from the hospital next week.

There are three more patients on the waiting list to receive a hand transplant, doctors said. All candidates have undergone extensive medical and psychological testing. Donors have been procured from Western Pennsylvania and adjacent states. Doctors match not only tissue type but skin color, size and gender.

Lee emphasized that the surgery can be ideal for the many amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

The UPMC protocol has been approved and partly funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

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