It was a freak accident when Robert Pennell, a 26-year-old inmate working on a road gang, had his left hand severed at the wrist by a brush axe.
The hand was placed in a bucket of ice and Pennell was taken to N.C. Baptist Hospital where Jesse H. Meredith, MD, performed the nation’s first hand re-implantation surgery. In eight hours, he successfully reattached the hand using a procedure that preserved arteries and nerves as much as possible.
Meredith had a storied career at Wake Forest Baptist, where he is credited with starting the organ transplantation program, establishing and becoming director of the first burn unit and tissue bank in the state, and founding and serving as first director of the medical school’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.
In addition, in the early 1960s he designed the first intensive care unit in North Carolina at Wake Forest Baptist. It also was one of the first such units in the nation. He retired in 1993 as emeritus professor of surgery after a 41-year career at Wake Forest Baptist. In 2010, the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine named its surgery research center in his honor.