Hand transplant man tells how he longs to hold his grandson
Published 04/01/2013 | 09:01
THE first person in the UK to have a hand transplant has described how he is most looking forward to holding his grandson's hand.
A shocked Mark Cahill, 51, was told on St Stephen’s Day that a donor hand was available.
And he underwent the procedure a day later in a pioneering eight-hour operation at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI).
The former pub landlord from Greetland, near Halifax, West Yorkshire, said the move had changed his life.
He said: "Eight o'clock on Boxing Day night we got a phone call saying we may have a donor.
"As you can imagine, the day after Christmas it was quite a shock.
"I'm getting slight movement now, my feeling has just started coming back, but everything's looking very, very good.
"Long term I won't have 100pc use of it, but obviously I'm going to have a lot more use than I had with the existing hand.
"I think I've dealt with it pretty well. The only thing you can't do is know what is going to happen after the operation, and as it has turned out it is brilliant. I'm well happy.
"Hopefully I will be able to get back to work for a start, that's a major difference.
"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."
And Mr Cahill told the BBC: "When I look at it and move it, it just feels like my hand.
"Right now it feels really good, it's not a lot of pain, it looks good, it looks a great match and I'm looking forward to getting it working now."
Mr Cahill, who is married to Sylvia and has one daughter, lost the use of his right hand due to severe gout, which also affects other parts of his body.
He had been part of a programme of potential recipients at the LGI and was one of two potential candidates when the donated limb became available on St Stephen’s Day.
The hospital said he was selected because he was the best tissue match.
The operation, which was done by a team led by consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay, used a new technique which involved Mr Cahill having his non-functioning right hand removed during the same operation as the donor hand was transplanted.
This procedure allowed very accurate restoration of nerve structures and is believed to be the first time this approach has been used, surgeons said.
Professor Kay said: "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.
"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."
Leeds Teaching Hospitals announced in late 2011 that it was starting to look for potential candidates for hand or arm transplants.
A spokesman said that since then, the LGI team had been preparing and assessing potential recipients from across the country.
Potential patients have gone through a series of health checks and psychological assessment to ensure they have carefully considered the implications of the procedure.
The team has been working closely with NHS Blood and Transplant and also colleagues in Lyon, France, where hand transplants were pioneered in 1998.
The first-ever recipient in France was New Zealander Clint Hallam, who later had his new hand removed.
Mr Hallam lost his original hand in a circular saw accident in prison in 1984.
He eventually decided he could not live with his new hand, which was taken from a motorcyclist who died in an accident. He said it felt like a dead man's hand.
It was removed two years later in London.
Doctors indicated Mr Hallam had not stuck to the correct drugs and exercise regime.
His experience cast doubt on the whole procedure although surgeons have pointed out that a number of hand transplants have been successfully completed in the US as well as in France.
Professor Kay said the operation took eight hours but the build-up to the operation was just over two years.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Mr Cahill was an "impressively phlegmatic man".
Speaking about the use of the hand, Professor Kay said: "If all goes well, within 18 months I would hope that he has quite strong grasp and if all goes as well as I hope he'll have good sensibility in the hand, good ability to feel and he'll have a precision pinch which would be a huge improvement in every domain upon the hand that he had before."
He added he thought the procedure would not become routine, but it would be a "small part of the repertoire" for reconstruction of the hand, and the use of robotic limbs was going to be "as important, or more important".
The hand, he said, had been given "at a time of enormous tragedy and loss", adding: "I'd like to acknowledge the extraordinary gift and reinforce the point that organ donation of any kind plucks something positive from that awful tragedy of the loss of a loved one".
Referring to his patient, he said: "I am happy with him, he is a remarkable man as I say. I will be happy in a year's time, until then we maintain vigilance."