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Hand transplant is a UK first

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

4th January 2012 - A 51 year old man has become the first person in the UK to undergo a hand transplant in a pioneering eight hour operation.

Mark Cahill, a former pub landlord from Halifax, West Yorkshire says he's looking forward to going back to work and being "able to hold my grandson's hand".

Mr Cahill was left with a paralysed right hand after an acute attack of gout led to an infection.

The complex operation went ahead at Leeds General Infirmary on 27th December after a donor limb became available and tissue matching had been completed. The surgical team was led by Professor Simon Kay, a consultant plastic surgeon.


Image: Mark Cahill and Professor Simon Kay
Courtesy Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

A rapidly developing technique

Several hand transplants have previously been performed internationally. The first recipient in 1998 was Clint Hallam, a New Zealander who had lost a hand in an accident with a circular saw a decade earlier. He received a new hand from a surgical team in Lyon, France.

However, in a new development internationally, the surgical team in Leeds removed the recipient's hand in the same operation as the donor's hand was transplanted. This allowed for the nerves to be very accurately restored.

Professor Kay says in a statement: "This operation is the culmination of a great deal of planning and preparation over the last two years by a team including plastic surgery, transplant medicine and surgery, immunology, psychology, rehabilitation medicine, pharmacy and many other disciplines.

"The team was on standby from the end of November awaiting a suitable donor limb, and the call came just after Christmas. It was extremely challenging to be the first team in the UK to carry out such a procedure."

Professor Kay says, although it is early days, there are indications that the patient is making progress. He also thanked the donor's family for making the operation possible.

'Quite a shock'

Mr Cahill told ITV how he was given little warning before undergoing surgery. "At eight o'clock on Boxing Day night I got a phone call saying we may have a donor. As you can imagine, the day after Christmas, it was quite a shock."

After confirmation the donor hand was suitable, Mr Cahill was in hospital within half an hour.

He says he has slight movement in his hand and some feeling has started to return.

Mr Cahill says doctors have told him he will never have 100% use of his new hand, but says "hopefully I'll be able to get back to work ... and for a start I might be able to cut my food up, button my shirts, fasten a pair of shoelaces - and mainly I'll be able to hold my grandson's hand".

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