A man whose hands were left unusable by the rare skin disease scleroderma has been given a new lease of life after what is believed to be the world’s first double hand transplant for the condition.
Scotsman Steven Gallagher (48) was diagnosed with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that causes scarring of the skin and internal organs, about 13 years ago.
The condition affected areas including his nose, mouth and hands and, about seven years ago, his fingers started curling in until they were in a fist position and he was suffering “horrendous” pain.
When experts suggested the idea of a double hand transplant the father of three initially dismissed the idea but then decided to go ahead despite the risks.
He said: “My hands started to close, it got to the point where it was basically two fists, my hands were unusable, I couldn’t do a thing apart from lift things with two hands.
“I could not grab anything, it was a struggle to get dressed and things like that.”
While he initially thought the idea of having a double hand transplant sounded like “space-age stuff”, he discussed the idea with his family and had a change of heart.
“My wife and I spoke about it and came to the agreement to go for it. I could end up losing my hands anyway, so it was just a case of letting them know I was going to go with it.”
Mr Gallagher, from Dreghorn, North Ayrshire, had to undergo psychological evaluation to ensure he was prepared for the prospect of a transplant. He then underwent the 12-hour operation in mid December 2021 after a suitable donor was found.
The 30-strong hand transplant team at Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, which carried out the surgery, said it is the first time anywhere in the world that hand transplantation has been used to replace hands terminally affected by scleroderma.
Mr Gallagher said: “
These hands are amazing, everything has happened so quickly. From the moment I woke up from the operation I could move them.”
He added: “It has given me a new lease of life.
“The pain is the big thing. The pain before the operation was horrendous... but now I’ve no pain at all.”
The 48-year-old roof tiler still undergoing physiotherapy to improve movement in his hands and
is now hoping to return to some kind of work once his hands have improved enough.
He added that he is very grateful to the person and family of the donor who made the transplant possible.