A team of Toronto doctors has performed Canada's first hand transplant, a procedure that the physicians spent more than a year preparing for.

Eighteen surgeons worked to attach a hand and forearm to a female patient at the Toronto Western Hospital, a part of the University Health Network. The procedure lasted about 14 hours.

The 49-year-old patient had lost her arm below the elbow several years ago in an accident. She is recovering in hospital.

"She's doing well," Dr. Steven McCabe, who led the team of surgeons, told reporters on Tuesday. "The hand has good circulation [and] she's had no medical problems since the time of the transplant."

Full recovery will take about two years, according to McCabe, because nerves regenerate at a rate of one millimetre per day.

Her rehabilitation will begin right away, according to the UHN, with a custom-made splint and joint exercises to prevent stiffness.

The patient will also have to take medication for the rest of her life, to prevent her body from rejecting her new arm and hand.

Doctors did not offer specifics about when the procedure occurred as part of their efforts to maintain the privacy of both the donor and the recipient.

McCabe said the surgery's success means the procedure will likely become more widely available to Canadian patients.

"We've been preparing quite intensively for over a year to get ready for this operation," McCabe said.

"It requires a tremendous collaborative effort putting this all together. But I think it means that it's available now."

In 1999, McCabe was on a surgical team that performed the world's first successful hand transplant in Louisville, Ky. More than 110 such transplants have been performed around the world.

More than 85 patients have received hand-and-arm transplants.

Matching patients and donors involves matching blood and tissue types, as well as skin colour and tone, gender, ethnicity, race and hand size.

With files from The Canadian Press