The first person in the UK to have a double hand transplant is now looking forward to holding a bottle of beer and wearing shirts with real buttons again.
Chris King, 57, lost both his hands – except the thumbs – in an accident involving a metal pressing machine at work three years ago.
Now, he has become the first person to have both hands replaced and only the second to have a hand transplant in the UK.
Recovering after the surgery at the UK’s specialist centre for the operation at Leeds General Infirmary, he said: ‘I couldn’t wish for anything better.
‘It’s better than a lottery win because you feel whole again.’
Pub landlord Mark Cahill, from Yorkshire, became the first person in the UK to have a hand transplant in 2012 – performed by the same surgeon as Mr King.
Chris King, 57, lost both his hands – except the thumbs – in an accident involving a metal pressing machine at work three years ago. He became the first person in the UK to have a double hand transplant
Mr King, from Rossington, South Yorkshire, recalled how he spent three years getting used to having no hands and resigned himself to living an adapted life
He is keen to stress the importance of people stepping forward as potential donors and became tearful when he was asked about the donor who helped him
How the painstaking surgery was performed, step by step. Mr King said the operation appears to have been a complete success as he already has some movement
Details of exactly when the operation was carried out have not been released, to reduce the risk of the donor being identified, although it was in the last 10 days. No details of the donor are being released.
Mr King, from Rossington, South Yorkshire, said the operation appears to have been a complete success.
He already has some movement of his hands and says they look ‘absolutely tremendous’.
Now, he cannot wait to remove the bandages to look at them properly.
‘They’re my hands,’ he said. ‘They really are my hands. My blood’s going through them.
‘It was just like the hands were made-to-measure. They absolutely fit.
‘And it’s actually opened a memory as I could never remember what my hands looked like after the accident – because that part of my brain shut down.’
Mr King also recalled how he spent three years getting used to having no hands and resigned himself to living an adapted life.
Mr King (right) has nothing but praise for Professor Simon Kay (left) and his team at Leeds General Infirmary. They also conducted the first hand transplant in the UK in 2012
He joked he had only just trained himself to stop biting his nails when the accident happened.
With a passion for cycling, he had already had a bike adapted following the accident to continue his hobby.
Now, he is itching to ride properly and start doing simple things again, such as gardening with his ride-on mower.
And even better, be will be able to ditch the ‘Full Monty Velcro’ shirts he has been forced to use.
Next, he is most looking forward to holding a bottle of beer properly – mainly his favourite Timothy Taylor.
Mr King has gone back to work at Eaton Lighting, in Doncaster, where the accident happened and he said the firm has been ‘brilliant’.
He can remember the ordeal perfectly but said there was no pain and no trauma.
Professor Kay’s team is hoping to perform between two and four operations a year and has four people currently on the waiting list
Mr King has gone back to work at Eaton Lighting, in Doncaster, where the accident happened. He can remember the ordeal perfectly but said there was no pain and no trauma
DONOR ‘WOULD HAVE GIVEN SHIRT OFF HIS BACK TO HELP SOMEBODY IN NEED’
The man whose hands were given to Chris King for the UK’s first double hand transplant ‘would have given the shirt off his back to help somebody in need’, his family has said.
The donor, who will remain anonymous, donated his upper limbs as well as other organs, according to his brother, who issued a statement on behalf of his family.
He said: ‘Our brother was a kind, caring and considerate person who would have given the shirt off his back to help somebody in need.
‘Learning he had registered as an organ donor made our decision to support him donating so much easier.
‘We are pleased the double hand transplant operation was able to go ahead, and all of our family send our best wishes to the recipient.
‘We are looking on his donation as a positive gift which we all hope will help somebody else to live a normal life.
‘Our brother donated other organs too and we hope the recipients are doing well.’
The statement continued: ‘As well as the lives he has changed, we want his legacy to be encouraging more people to sign up as donors and more families to go ahead with donation.
‘Obviously, we are devastated by our loss but we know our brother would have been proud to have played a part in saving and transforming so many people’s lives.
‘We’d like to say thank you to everyone who was involved in his medical care for the care, compassion and respect they gave to our brother.’
But he still has the odd problem going back into the department where the machine is located.
‘It doesn’t mean anything to me sometimes and other times I can go in and I need to get out quick, because there are certain sounds,’ he said.
‘But I think things will be different. I’ll be able to walk in and stop in.’
Mr King recalled how doctors in Sheffield talked about reconstructive surgery and other options but said: ‘Something was telling me, no. There’s something better out there’.
One of the team in Sheffield referred him to consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay at Leeds General Infirmary, who introduced him 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 – exclusive members of a club of two that is looking for more members.
‘We’ll shake hands one day,’ he added.
Mr King has nothing but praise for Professor Kay’s team at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust – now the UK’s centre for hand transplants after it was given the go-ahead earlier this year.
Professor Kay’s team is hoping to perform between two and four operations a year and has four people currently on the waiting list.
But Mr King is keen to stress the importance of people stepping forward as potential donors and became tearful when he was asked about the donor who helped him.
Clearly emotional, Mr King said: ‘It’s marvellous. It’s like somebody putting an arm round you and saying you’ll be alright. It’s difficult to say thank you.’
Mr King said: ‘There are probably people out there who don’t know about this still. They can have something better. We want as many donors as we can.
‘Even if you don’t have a card, just have the conversation with your family. There’s no greater gift.’
Hand transplant operations are ‘long and complex’
Around 80 hand transplants have been performed worldwide, offering patients the chance to touch and feel again.
After successful operations, with time and expert after care, the donor hand will move with strength and dexterity.
It will even feel warm to touch and heal itself when injured – but the operation is a long and complex one.
During the six to 12-hour procedure, teams of surgeons work to remove the donor hand while separate teams work on the recipient.
Bones are joined with titanium plates and screws. Just as with a typical broken bone, they should eventually heal together, but the plates remain in place to ensure stability.
Surgeons then connect key tendons and muscles, before blood vessels are connected.
Once blood is circulating, remaining nerves, tendons and muscles are attached – as the feeling in the hand should then come back.
Mark Cahill became the first ever hand transplant patient in the UK in 2012 after Professor Simon Kay successfully performed the first procedure at Leeds General Infirmary, pictured with his wife Sylvia
Mr Cahill, a former pub landlord from Halifax, West Yorkshire, has since regained almost complete use of his transplanted hand and can pick up his grandchildren
A single hand transplant costs around £50,000 with a further £2,000 to £3,000 a year in rehabilitation and drug costs.
Eligible patients have typically lost one or both hands, mostly below the elbow.
In assessing eligibility, the main focus is on matching blood group, skin tone and hand size.
The option to choose to donate limbs is not recorded on the NHS Organ Donation Register, so specific permission is sought from the families of potential donors after their death.
Due to the special matching required and the complex nature of the procedure, patients will also be carefully screened for psychological and physical suitability.
The majority of patients, around 70 per cent, return to work and 75 per cent report an increased quality of life.
Leeds General Infirmary, where Chris King became the UK’s first double hand transplant patient, is believed to be the first in the world to perform the operations with public funding.
The centre is headed by consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay, who successfully performed the UK’s first single hand transplant on Mark Cahill in 2012.
Mr Cahill, a former pub landlord from Greetland, near Halifax, West Yorkshire, has since regained almost complete use of his transplanted hand and can pick up his grandchildren, tie his shoelaces and drive a car.
He reportedly used the limb to save his wife’s life earlier this year after she suffered a heart attack.
Hand transplant surgeon hopes pioneering operations will prompt more donors
The consultant plastic surgeon who performed the UK’s first double hand transplant said he hopes the procedure becoming more commonplace will encourage donations.
Professor Simon Kay led a team of eight surgeons who spent 12 hours in the operating theatre changing the life of 57-year-old Chris King.
He said: ‘It’s the first time we’ve done that in the UK.
‘It’s the first time as far as I’m aware, a hand transplant has been done which hasn’t been above the wrist.
Professor Simon Kay led a team of eight surgeons who spent 12 hours in the operating theatre changing the life of 57-year-old Chris King
‘Mr King is doing really well. We’re in the first ten days still.
‘Everybody latches onto movement but, of course, it’s very important he regains the feeling as well.
‘And I would expect he will regain very good movement and very good feeling.’
The surgeon said Mr King had been evaluated for two years before a decision was taken to add him to the list of people suitable for transplant.
He is the first to have undergone the procedure since NHS England awarded the contract to Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to become the UK’s specialist centre for hand transplants.
Professor Kay explained how the NHS commissioning framework changed shortly after the unit performed the UK’s first hand transplant on Mark Cahill in 2012.
Leeds won the contract to become the specialist centre in April this year and is now hoping to make the procedure more common.
The professor said four people are currently waiting for the operation and the timing of their treatment is all about the availability of donors.
He said: ‘It could be this evening. It could be a year.’
‘Because hand transplantation is such an unusual thing, people have been slow to donate.
‘We’ve certainly had many opportunities to ask for donations that haven’t been given. I think that’s entirely understandable.
‘The people who work for NHS Blood and Transplant have the very difficult job of asking for donations at the time of the death of a loved one.
‘It’s extraordinarily difficult to ask and extraordinarily difficult to make that decision.
‘I think now hand transplantation is a reality and people can see the good it does, I hope they’ll consider making that donation as readily as they do a liver and kidney and heart and lungs.’
But Professor Kay said there is more to think about than when transplanting internal organs.
He said: ‘Nobody cares what their kidney looks like as long as it works.
He added the psychological impact of having hands is huge because, like the face, they’re on view all the time.
‘So Chris’ most rewarding comment to date is that he feels whole again and that’s incredibly important,’ he said.
Dr Jonathan Fielden, NHS England Director of Specialised Commissioning and Deputy National Medical Director, said: ‘The NHS is leading the world in offering hand transplants for patients who meet the agreed criteria, free at the point of care – another great example of what the NHS and its excellent clinical teams are capable of.
‘Successful transplants can significantly improve quality of life for patients, and we hope Mr King enjoys similar benefits with the surgical, physiotherapy and ongoing care which this world-class team provide.’