How doctors' friendship got a French woman her new hands in Philly

GETTY IMAGES Laurent Lantieri is the French surgeon who worked for years to get a young woman a double hand transplant.

Three years ago, French surgeon Laurent Lantieri, a face-transplant pioneer, had all the necessary approvals and government financing for the marathon operation that would give a 25-year-old woman from Paris two new hands.

Neither he nor his eager young patient, Laura Nataf, foresaw the roadblock that would prompt them to turn to the University of Pennsylvania Health System, where the 28-year-old woman had a double hand transplant in August.

“Everything was in place in 2013,” recalled Lantieri, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris. "We even had the money to do it. But no one was active to find a donor. For three years, there were no potential donors."

Speaking from Paris on Monday, Lantieri said he still does not fully understand why the French agency that coordinates organ transplants, the Agency of Biomedicine, failed in Nataf's case. France's socialized medical system has paid for hand and face transplants, while private insurers in the U.S. continue to consider such nonessential procedures elective and experimental.

In any case, the delay led Lantieri's hospital to balk. Continue reading
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