History made as surgeons give UK man a new hand

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The Independent Online

A 51-year-old man has become the first person in the UK to have a hand transplant with a pioneering eight-hour operation.

Mark Cahill, from Halifax, underwent the long, complex procedure at Leeds General Infirmary last week.

The surgical team, which was led by Professor Simon Kay, an internationally renowned microsurgeon who has reattached dozens of partially severe hands, are thought to have made history by becoming the first to remove a recipient's non-functioning right-hand and transplanting the donor hand in the same surgery.

About 60 hand transplants have been carried out successfully worldwide but this procedure allowed for more accurate restoration of nerve structures, and greater chance of success. This is a potentially critical improvement, as the first man to have a hand transplant later needed it to be removed. But the new feat is not without drawbacks. The patient must take immunosuppressant drugs for life, increasing the risk of cancer and infection in the host.

The Yorkshire-based team of surgeons had been planning the procedure since December 2011. Potential patients went through a series of health checks and psychological assessment to ensure they have carefully considered the implications of the procedure, which whittled down the candidates to just two, a spokesman for the hospital said. Mr Cahill, who was one of the two potential recipients, suffered from gout from an early age, leaving one hand completely non-functioning and another with only partial movement. The spokesman said that he is already able to move his fingers.

"The team was on standby from the end of November awaiting a suitable donor limb, and the call came just after Christmas," Professor Kay said. "It is still early days but indications are good and the patient is making good progress."

For two years the team has been working closely with the NHS Blood and Transplant authority and colleagues in Lyon, France, where the first hand transplant was completed in 1998.

The NHS Blood and Transplant authority paid tribute to the family of the donor and said 10,000 people are currently waiting for a transplant of some sort in the UK.