A man whose hands were rendered useless by a rare disease has been revived after what is believed to be the world’s first double hand transplant for the condition.
Steven Gallagher, 48, was diagnosed with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that scars the skin and internal organs, after developing an unusual rash about 13 years ago.
Areas such as his nose, mouth and hands were affected and about seven years ago his fingers began to curl inward until they were in a fist position and he was suffering from “terrible” pain.
When experts suggested the idea of a double hand transplant, the father-of-three initially rejected the idea but then decided to go ahead despite the risks.
He told PA news agency: “My wife and I talked about it and came to an agreement to go for it. I could end up losing my hands anyway, so it was just a matter of letting them know I was going with it.”
Mr Gallagher, from Dreghorn in North Ayrshire, had to undergo a psychological evaluation to ensure he was prepared for the prospect of a transplant.
He then underwent the 12-hour surgery in mid-December 2021 after a suitable donor was found.
The hand transplant team at Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, which performed the surgery, said it is the first time in the world that hand transplantation has been used to replace hands terminally affected by scleroderma.
Mr Gallagher said: “After the surgery I woke up and it was quite surreal because before that I had my hands and when I woke up from the surgery I still had hands so in my head I never really lost hands.
“These hands are amazing, everything has happened so quickly. From the moment I woke up from the surgery I was able to move them.”
He added: “It has given me a new lease of life. I still find it difficult now, but the physiotherapist and occupational therapists are getting better every week, things are slowly getting better.
“The pain is the most important thing. The pain before the surgery was terrible, I was given so much pain relief that it was unbelievable, but now I have no pain at all.”
Mr Gallagher spent approximately four weeks in the Leeds General Infirmary after surgery and regularly visits Glasgow hospitals for physiotherapy and monitoring.
More than five months after surgery, his condition is improving and while he can’t perform tasks that require great dexterity such as buttoning up buttons, he can do things like pet his dog, turn on the faucet and fill a glass of water.
The 48-year-old worked as a roofer and became an assistant contract manager but had to stop working due to his condition.
He now hopes to be able to return to work when his hands have improved sufficiently, and is deeply grateful to the person and family of the donor who made the transplant possible.
A 30-person team of professionals from many disciplines was involved in the operation.
Professor Simon Kay, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “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 to ensure that they will be psychologically able to maintain the permanent memory of their transplant and the risk that the body rejects the transplanted hands, psychologically the head. to offer.”