'It is like my own limb': First British person to undergo a hand transplant gives operation a resounding thumbs up

Mark Cahill says hand transplant has given him a new lease of life

It was the operation seemingly straight out of the pages of an Edgar Allan Poe novel, so would Britain's first hand transplant prove to be a success?

Now, two months the surgery, patient Mark Cahill has given his new body-part a resounding thumbs-up.

Speaking for the first time of his recovery from an eight-hour procedure, during which his original hand was amputated before that of a donor was attached to his arm in its place, the 51-year-old father of one said he was getting to grips with the change.

After five long years without mobility in his right hand, he now has it back – and with it the freedom he wanted to cut his own food and play with his grandson.

The new hand doesn't look quite like the old one – it is smaller, paler and more freckled than the original. But in an interview with the Radio Times, Mr Cahill, from Greetland near Halifax in West Yorkshire, explained that he had physically and mentally accepted the switch.

He said: "I've always seen it as my hand, since the moment I woke up after the operation.

"[The nails] grow at the same rate on both hands and they've already been cut three times. So whatever it is that makes your nails grow must come from me." Despite initial fears about whether or not the Yorkshireman would take to his new extremity, things looked hopeful from the start. Soon after the eight-hour operation, which was performed at Leeds General Infirmary on 7 December last year, showcasing a brand new technique which involves removing the patient's and transplanting the new hand during the same operation, Mr Cahill said he was "ecstatic" with the result.

But there was still room for trepidation. Much of the recovery process after such an operation relies on the recipient's emotional as well as physical ability to appropriate the new body part as their own. In order to ensure he didn't mentally reject the body, Mr Cahill and his wife were given counselling after the operation. And before he was even selected from a number of candidates for the pioneering procedure, he was given a series of psychological evaluations and an IQ test to make sure he was mentally prepared for what can be a traumatic event. The first short-term success in human hand transplantation involved New Zealander Clint Hallam who lost his hand in an accident in prison. The hand was transplanted by a worldwide team of doctors in 1998 in Lyon, France.

But in 2001 Mr Hallam, who never accepted his new hand and was said not to have followed through with the necessary physiotherapy and drug therapies as part of on-going aftercare, asked to have the limb removed.

A year later, American Matthew Scott, who lost his hand aged 24 in a fireworks accident, had the same operation with greater success.

Since then, greater emphasis has been put on health checks and mental preparation prior to surgery.

Mr Cahill, who lost the use of his hand as a result of severe gout, applied for the operation after Leeds Teaching Hospitals announced it was looking for candidates for hand or arm transplants surgery, in 2011. Following a series of psychological and physical tests, Mr Cahill, who was said to have the best tissue match, was selected for the surgery which provided an alternative to a bionic arm.

At the time, Mr Cahill said he wanted the operation in order to be able to hold his grandson's hand.

Over the course of eight hours, a team led by consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay used pioneering techniques in which the bones of the donor's hand and the patients arms are connected together, and tendons, nerves, arteries and veins stitched together, before the blood flow is restored and skin closed up.

Mr Cahill, who should be able to pick things up and tie his shoelaces with the hand within the next few months, said the operation had given him a new lease of life.

"I can see why people with two hands don't understand," he said.

"But going from a hand that can't do anything, it doesn't seem unusual. Having a hand that is warm, that feels, that is part of you, is much better than a prosthetic limb.

"The future's changed. Now I've got something to look forward to."

Much recovery relies on the recipient's emotional as well as physical ability to receive the new body part.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home