A FORMER pub landlord from Yorkshire has become the first patient in the UK to undergo a hand transplant in a pioneering operation by world-leading experts in the region.
Mark Cahill, 51, has already gained some movement in his new right hand following eight hours of painstaking microvascular surgery at Leeds General Infirmary.
In an international first, surgeons removed his hand, which had been virtually useless for five years, and in the same operation re-attached a donor limb, allowing them to carry out a highly-accurate restoration of key nerve structures.
Last night Mr Cahill, of Greetland, near Halifax, said he is looking forward to holding his three-year-old grandson Thomas’s hand properly for the first time.
He faces intensive rehabilitation and a lifetime on anti-rejection drugs but doctors say they are pleased with his progress so far and he hopes to return home next week.
Experts at the infirmary announced 12 months ago that they were planning the UK’s first hand transplant and candidates have been assessed from across the country.
A donor limb became available last week and following detailed tissue matching, Mr Cahill was selected for the operation which went ahead last Thursday.
The techniques used in the transplant called upon all the experience of a team harnessing some of the world’s greatest expertise in microvascular surgery, led by internationally-renowned consultant plastic surgeon Prof Simon Kay.
Mr Cahill lost useful movement in his right hand five years ago owing to complications triggered by gout and has poor movement in his other hand.
Only a week after the operation, he can move the fingers in his new right hand although the feeling is yet to return.
“It’s amazing to look at your hand and see you fingers moving when you haven’t see them do that for five years,” he said.
“Anything that I can do will be a bonus after not being able to do anything. Holding my grandson’s hand is going to be great.”
He also paid tribute to the anonymous donor and their family.
“My heart goes out to the family but it is such a gift,” he said.
“I feel so sorry for them because of their loss but I am so pleased for their donation.”
Prof Kay said Mr Cahill was making good progress.
“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,” he said.
“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.
“Any organ donation brings something positive from tragedy and I would like to acknowledge the tremendous gift the family of the donor have made at such a distressing time.
“It is still early days but indications are good and the patient is making good progress.”
He said the surgery was very similar to re-attaching a severed hand, but the operation was made far more complex because of the need to find a matching donor hand in terms of both tissue type and appearance, as well as coordinating the retrieval of the donor limb.
He said: “Nobody cares what their new kidney looks like. They do of course care about what their hand looks like.
“Nobody will ever get full use from a hand transplant but we have used a new technique mapping the nerves very closely and I am very optimistic about nerve function and hand movement.”