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UK's first hand transplant in Leeds

Mark Cahill is the first person in the UK to have a hand transplant Photo:

A 51-year-old man from Halifax has become the first person in the UK to have a hand transplant.

Doctors at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) said Mark Cahill underwent the complex, eight hour-long procedure on December 27 when a donor hand became available.

They said a new technique was used which involved Mr Cahill, from Greetland, near Halifax, West Yorkshire, having his non-functioning right hand removed during the same operation as the donor hand was transplanted.

This procedure allowed very accurate restoration of nerve structures and is believed to be the first time this approach has been used, surgeons said.

Consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay, who led the surgical team, said:

This operation is the culmination of a great deal of planning and preparation over the last two years by a team including plastic surgery, transplant medicine and surgery, immunology, psychology, rehabilitation medicine, pharmacy and many other disciplines.

The team was on standby from the end of November awaiting a suitable donor limb, and the call came just after Christmas.

It was extremely challenging to be the first team in the UK to carry out such a procedure.

Any organ donation brings something positive from tragedy and I would like to acknowledge the tremendous gift the family of the donor have made at such a distressing time.

It is still early days but indications are good and the patient is making good progress.

– Professor Simon Kay

The hospital said Mr Cahill lost the use of his right hand due to severe gout.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals announced in late 2011 that it was starting to look for potential candidates for hand or arm transplants.

A spokesman said that since then, the LGI team had been preparing and assessing potential recipients from across the country.

Potential patients have gone through a series of health checks and psychological assessment to ensure they have carefully considered the implications of the procedure.

Mr Cahill was part of the programme and was one of two potential candidates when a donated limb became available. He was selected because he was the best tissue match.

The team has been working closely with NHS Blood and Transplant and also colleagues in Lyon, France, where hand transplants were pioneered in 1998.

The first-ever recipient in France was New Zealander Clint Hallam, who later had his new hand removed.

Mr Hallam lost his original hand in a circular saw accident in prison in 1984. He eventually decided he could not live with his new hand, which was taken from a motorcyclist who died in an accident. He said it felt like a dead man's hand.It was removed two years later in London.

Doctors indicated Mr Hallam had not stuck to the correct drugs and exercise regime.

His experience cast doubt on the whole procedure although surgeons have pointed out that a number of hand transplants have been successfully completed in the US as well as in France.