"We chose the most difficult patient first," team leader L. Scott Levin said Tuesday at a news conference detailing the September transplant, something only three other U.S. medical centers have accomplished.
Lindsay Ess, 28, of Richmond, Va., had hands and forearms transplanted to replace her own, lost to a 2007 bloodstream infection that left her a quadruple amputee, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Penn's hand transplant program is the product of more than two years of preparation, Levin said.
Such transplants are somewhat controversial because, unlike major organ replacements, they are not life-saving yet still require patients to take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of their lives to prevent transplant rejection.
Penn bioethicist Arthur Caplan, who vetted the ethics of the hand transplant program, said Monday: "Is it worth putting someone at risk of premature death to improve their quality of life? I came to understand that this is not just aesthetic or cosmetic. It is about truly functioning" to the fullest.