World’s Most Successful Hand Transplant Recipient Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Matthew Scott, the recipient of the world’s most successful hand transplant and the first person in the United States to receive a hand transplant, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the history-making procedure at a reception at Jewish Hospital.

Among the standing-room-only crowd were several members of Scott’s transplant team, including Tuna Ozyurekoglu, M.D., Lead Reconstructive Surgeon and President of the Christine M. Kleinert Institute, Tsu-Min Tsai, M.D., Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center, and Gordon Tobin, M.D., University of Louisville Physicians.

Ronald Waldridge, II, M.D., President of Jewish Hospital, shared brief comments about Jewish Hospital’s Transplant Center program, then introduced guest speakers that included Christopher Jones, M.D., Lead Transplantation Physician and Program Director of the Jewish Hospital Transplant Center, Christina Kaufman, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Microsurgery, Leanne French, Administrator of Strategic Partnerships for the Center for Health Equity, Louisville Dept. of Public Health & Wellness, and Rabbi Dr. Nadia Siritsky, Vice President of Mission for Jewish Hospital.

Rabbi Siritsky began the celebration with a blessing, asking all in attendance to hold up their hands – and to take a moment to recognize the incredible blessing that our hands represent.

“Today we give thanks for the hands that have been given and the hands received, for hands that have soothed and comforted, hands that have operated and performed healing miracles, for hands that have been restored, for hands that have been transplanted, for hands that have gone on to love and create and work and heal, and for the boundless blessings that have been created in this world thanks to the hands that have been healed and reconnected,” said Rabbi Siritsky.

Following the blessing and other speakers, Matthew Scott shared about his initial injury that led to the amputation of his hand, and his journey to England that connected him with transplant research at Jewish Hospital, and ultimately a new hand. When the press conference concluded, Dr. Kaufman performed a high resolution ultrasound on Scott’s hand.

Scott became a part of medical history on January 24-25, 1999, when he received his new left hand, an event that has greatly impacted the future of both transplantation and reconstructive surgery around the world. The 14 ½ hour innovative procedure requiring 18 medical professionals was performed at Jewish Hospital, part of KentuckyOne Health, by surgeons from Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center and Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Microsurgery.  The transplant was part of the Louisville Vascularized Composite Allograft program (Louisville VCA Program).

The Louisville VCA program was started to prove that the transfer of a hand and/or arm could be a treatment alternative for patients who had lost a limb in the same way a kidney or heart can be replaced in patients who need a new organ. Unlike solid organ transplants, hand transplants require the reconnection of multiple tissues, including skin, muscle, bone, tendon, and more. Some controversy has surrounded this type of transplantation because the procedure requires otherwise healthy patients to take immunosuppressant drugs, making them more vulnerable to diabetes, cancer and other diseases.
“We cannot overstate how gratifying it is to reach this milestone with Matt,” said Christopher Jones, MD, Lead Transplantation Physician, Jewish Hospital Transplantation Program Director, and Transplant Surgery Division Chief at University of Louisville Physicians, Transplantation Surgery of UofL School of Medicine. “Not only has Matt’s life been immeasurably enriched through this procedure, but his dedication to keeping his new limb healthy has allowed us to prove that this type of transplantation can be successful, and has paved the way for others receive this life-changing procedure.”

A New Jersey native, Scott is the director of the EMT and paramedic school operated by his employer, Virtua Health. The 57-year-old father of two can use his transplanted hand for everyday living activities, such as dialing a phone, drinking from a glass, turning door knobs, and more. Scott lost his dominant left hand on December 23, 1985, in a blast from an M80 firecracker accident.

“I am fortunate to have been with Matt on this journey from the very beginning, and he has inspired me every step of the way,” said Tuna Ozyurekoglu, MD, Lead Reconstructive Surgeon; President, Christine M. Kleinert Institute; Partner, Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center. “The functionality of his hand today is a result of his amazingly positive attitude, compliance with medical advice and the continued dedication of his hand care team.”

Since the surgery, Matt has become an ambassador for hand transplantation, and has dedicated his time to meeting with potential transplant recipients and speaking at medical and amputee conferences, and is a member of the United Network for Organ Sharing VCA committee.

“I was fully aware of the risks of the surgery back then, but I don’t think I grasped just how my new hand would change my life, and by extension, the lives of the hundreds of other patients and their families,” said Scott. “I will be forever grateful for what that team of surgeons did for me, and for the way their innovation and professionalism continues to resonate around the world.” 

Since Scott’s procedure in 1999, 200 hand transplantations have been performed on more than 140 patients worldwide, and many of the physicians performing these life-changing procedures were trained right here in Louisville. The majority of the hand transplants performed by the Louisville CTA team were sponsored by the Department of Defense, Office of Naval Research and Office of Army Research to further study the vascularized composite allograph program. The Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s Foundation pledged $1.5 million to continue the program.

Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) coordinated the donation of the hands and worked very closely with the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization and LifeGift in Texas. Without the help of these organ procurement agencies and the donor families, these procedures could not have taken place.

Kentuckians can join the Kentucky Donor Registry online at People who live outside of the state of Kentucky can visit for state specific donor registry information.