Gayle Severance takes part in historic bilateral hand transplant surgeries

Posted on 09/22/2015

ASHT member Gayle Severance was recently spotlighted by Drexel University for her role in historic hand surgeries. Photo from Drexel University From The Digital Dragon -- Drexel University's online news, events and more Monday, September 14, 2015 Twice in the past four years, Philadelphia has been the site of surgical firsts in the field of hand transplantation, and both times, Gayle Severance ’04 played a key role in their success. In 2011, Philadelphia physicians performed the world’s first bilateral hand transplant on an adult. That laid the groundwork for this year’s successful first-time double hand transplant on a child. Severance, a graduate of Drexel’s Advanced Practice in Hand and Upper Quarter Rehabilitation post-bachelor’s certificate program, was part of a select team of hand therapists at the center of both historic operations, during which she helped the patients adapt physically and emotionally to life with donated limbs. If you get a heart transplant, it’s inside, and nobody sees it. But with a limb, it’s so visible and it’s so personal,” Severance says. “So, our biggest role is to help the patient, not just physically — to protect their limbs, and gain motion and function in their new limbs — but helping them to accept their new limbs as their own.” Severance was one of several hand therapists who treated Lindsay Ess, a quadruple amputee who lost both of her hands and feet due to a debilitating infection. After her surgery, Severance spent four months with Ess, guiding her through hours of therapy; sometimes moving Ess’ new hands for her, helping her to stretch and bend them until she was able to move them on her own. Ess is still adapting to her new hands and can now pick up some lightweight items. Severance still sees her once a year for routine assessments. In the most recent bilateral hand transplant, performed on 8-year-old Zion Harvey, Severance was called in to provide insight from her previous experience to the team of physicians who performed the surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The story of Harvey’s 11-hour breakthrough procedure claimed the attention of audiences across the country and around the world. “It’s a very emotional treatment when somebody gets new hands for the first time,” Severance explains. “And it’s a very emotionally challenging experience for all of the family and medical caregivers, and the stress on the therapist is real high. It’s important to have that support from somebody who’s been through it before.” Read more