UCSF surgeons perform groundbreaking elbow transplant

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A Texas father is recovering in San Francisco Thursday night after a groundbreaking surgery. Doctors at the University of California San Francisco transplanted a joint from one part of his body to another, so he can use his arm again. (KGO-TV)

A Texas father is recovering in San Francisco Thursday night after a groundbreaking surgery. Doctors at the University of California San Francisco transplanted a joint from one part of his body to another, so he can use his arm again.

For Reggie Cook, just doing simple things is a struggle. A car accident seven years ago shattered the elbow in his right arm, and destroyed the function in his left. But after years of limited movement, Cook approached his doctor in El Paso with an idea.

"What if we take this bone from this elbow and use it in this elbow," Cook said.

Cook's doctor, Eric Sides, M.D., contacted a former colleague, Dr. Lisa Lattanza, M.D., chief of elbow and upper extremity surgery at UCSF. They discussed the idea of transplanting Reggie's undamaged elbow from the arm that didn't work, to the one that could.

"I said I don't think that's been done before, but all the component parts have been done before, so let me think about it," says Lattanza.

She began with C/T scans that were turned into specialized 3D computer models. They allowed doctors to carefully plot out the potential surgery, and practice the techniques on a cadaver. After deciding it was possible, Dr. Lattanza assembled a team of surgeons including Dr. Scott Hansen, Dr. Charles Lee and Dr. Michael Terry.

"It was like a ballet going on," she remembers. Everybody knew their part, everybody did exactly what they should do at exactly the right moment," Lattanza said.

Over the next 11 hours two teams worked in tandem taking care to preserve muscle surrounding tissue and blood vessels. Finally, doctors severed the bones on either side of the working elbow, and began transplanting it to Cook's right arm carefully re-orienting the bones to fit.

"Everything is a mirror image and backwards. So that was going to be the challenge, how do we hook up these bones that are backwards," says Dr. Lattanza.

But she says the initial post-surgery results are already encouraging. Reggie is still able to move his hand and fingers and blood flow in his right arm is also normal. The hope now is when the joint heals, he'll be able to lift objects with his right arm and possibly much more.

"My independence, I can't wait to be independent," Cook said.

And begin to rebuild his life, with the help of a groundbreaking surgery.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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