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Disabled man has first double hand transplant

Steven Gallagher
Steven Gallagher Image credit:

A man diagnosed with a rare illness has undergone the world’s first double hand transplant after he developed a rash thirteen years ago.

Steven Gallagher, from Dreghorn, North Ayrshire, lives with scleroderma, the condition started to affect his nose, mouth and hands before spreading to the fingers seven years ago causing the 48-year-old “horrendous” pain.

When doctors first suggested a double hand transplant he was reluctant to go ahead with the procedure, but after weighing up the risks beside the pain he was suffering Gallagher went under the knife.

He told PA news agency: "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."

Gallagher had to undergo a psychological evaluation to ensure he was healthy enough for the 12-hour operation by Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust in mid-December 2001 after a donor was found.

The father-of-three said: "After the operation I woke up and it was quite surreal because before it I had my hands and then when I woke up from the operation I still had hands so in my head I never really lost any hands.

"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. I'm still finding things hard just now but things are getting better every week with the physio and the occupational therapists, everything is just slowly getting better.

"The pain is the big thing. The pain before the operation was horrendous, I was on so much pain relief it was unbelievable, but now I've no pain at all."

Gallagher spent four weeks in Leeds General Infirmary, he still attends regular visits to Glasgow hospitals for physiotherapy and check ups.

The surgery has given him a new lease of life, he can now do up buttons, stroke his dog and turn on taps.

Gallagher lost his job as a roof tiler when his condition started to deteriorate, but now hopes to find a new career thanks to the operation.

Professor Simon Kay, of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "Having a hand transplant is very different from a kidney or other organ transplant, as hands are something we see every day and we use them in so many ways.

"For this reason, we and our expert clinical psychologists assess and prepare patients, in order to be sure that they will be able to cope psychologically with the permanent reminder of their transplant, and the risk the body may reject the transplanted hands."

The surgery involved a 30-strong team of professionals from many disciplines.