Double hand transplant: UK’s first operation ‘tremendous’ success

The UK’s first double hand transplant operation has taken place at Leeds General Infirmary and the patient says his new hands look “tremendous”.

Chris King, from Doncaster, lost both his hands, apart from the thumbs, in an accident involving a metal pressing machine at work three years ago.

 

The 57-year-old received two new hands from a donor and says he already has some movement in them.

Prof Simon Kay led the operation at the UK’s centre for hand transplants.

Mr King is the second person to have a hand transplant at Leeds, but the first to have both hands replaced.

He said: “I couldn’t wish for anything better. It’s better than a lottery win because you feel whole again.”

Mr King said the operation, which took place in the past few days, appeared to have been a complete success.

“They look absolutely tremendous,” he said.

“They’re my hands. They really are my hands. My blood’s going through them. My tendons are attached. They’re mine. They really are.”

The left hand of the UK's first double hand transplant patient Chris King, from Doncaster, before his double hand transplant operationImage copyrightLEEDS TEACHING HOSPITALS NHS TRUST/PA
Image captionThe left hand of Chris King before his double hand transplant operation

Prof Kay, a consultant plastic surgeon, said: “It’s the first time as far as I’m aware that a hand transplant has been done which hasn’t been above the wrist, which has been within the substance of the hand, which makes it much more difficult and more complex.”

And he said there was more to think about when transplanting hands rather than internal organs.

“Nobody cares what their kidney looks like as long as it works.

“But not only do we have to match the hands immunologically, in the same way that we have to match kidneys and livers, they also have to look appropriate because the hands are on view the whole time.”

Prof Kay also said there could be a psychological impact on the patient of receiving hands from a donor.

Families also found it harder to contemplate donating the hands of a loved-one, he said.

Beer in hand

Mr King said he couldn’t wait to take the bandages off to look at them properly.

And he said he was really looking forward to holding a bottle of beer and wearing shirts with proper buttons again.

“It was just like the hands were made to measure. They absolutely fit,” he said.

“And it’s actually opened a memory because I could never remember what my hands looked like after the accident because that part of my brain shut down.”

He says he remembers the accident perfectly but said there was no pain and no trauma.

Mr King’s passion is cycling and he said he was now itching to ride properly again and start doing simple things, such as gardening and using his ride-on mower.

Consultant plastic surgeon professor Simon Kay who performed the UK's first double hand transplant at Leeds General Infirmary, on patient Chris KingImage copyrightPA
Image captionProf Simon Kay from Leeds General Infirmary with his patient

After his accident, Mr King was introduced by Prof Kay to Mark Cahill – the first person to have a hand transplant in the UK, in 2012.

He said Mr Cahill encouraged him to have the operation and they’re now good friends, he said.

“We’ll shake hands one day. It’s wonderful stuff.”

The team at Leeds General Infirmary is hoping to perform between two and four hand transplant operations a year and there are currently four people on the waiting list.

Mr King encouraged more people to pledge to donate their hands.

He said: “Even if you don’t have a card, just have the conversation with your family.

“There’s no greater gift.”

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