Teen born without fingers prepares to undergo surgery

- A Bay Area teen is on the verge of a surgery that will change how she interacts with the world around her for the rest of her life.

Rachael Pinwinski is a quadruplet - but from her first moment, she was different.

"[My mom] kept asking my dad [about] fingers and toes," Rachel told FOX 13 News. "My brother came out and he's like, 'yup.' And I came out, and my dad was like [uh oh.]"

She had a condition called amniotic band syndrome, which can lead to cleft pallets, cleft lips, or fingers that don't fully form, which is what happened with Rachel. Two fingers on her right hand and four on her left are affected.

"In kindergarten, I couldn't do monkey bars, and all the little kids could do monkey bars, and I just couldn't do it," she recalled. 

Rachel is working her way through college, at St. Petersburg College -Tarpon, as a server at a local restaurant.

"I am in constant pain," she said. "Just because the bone is so close to the skin, it just hurts if I grab anything wrong or if I bump into anything."

Her life has been marked by eight surgeries, including a particularly difficult one where a wrench was wired into her bones to lengthened them. She has to turn a knob three times a day for the process to work.

"When I was 14, my doctor said there wasn't anything else we could do," Rachel said.

But advances in medicine have changed that view. Doctors began to believe Rachel is a good candidate for a finger transplant.  

They devised a plan. One of her middle toes will be placed on her ring finger. Three other fingers will come from a tissue donor. 

To ensure her body does not reject the new tissue, Rachel's hand will be surgically placed into the side of her abdomen, and will remain inside her body for a month. When doctors remove it, they expect the fingers to be fully fused. 

Rachel will begin physical therapy and, if she works at it, the nerves, bones and muscles will strengthen and she will have full use of her hand.

"It has opened up a whole new door to me," she said. "[I have] hope [and] inspiration."

Rachel's dreams for her new hand are to be able to complete the simplest tasks - and live a normal life.

"Getting a wedding ring on that finger, and holding my child's hand, and not being in pain from it," she said.

The surgery is slated for February at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. Insurance is expected to cover most of it, but she's going to have to be out of work for several months.

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