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NHS 70 - A Life Transformed: Chris King - Britain's First Double Hand Transplant Recipient

Chris King lost his hands in a workplace accident in 2013. In July 2016, he made medical history, becoming Britain's first double hand transplant recipient. ​

Chris lost his hands in a workplace accident Credit: Editorial

Two years on from the operation, the 59-year-old from Rossington, near Doncaster, says his life has been transformed.

​Hero is the word he uses to describe the organ donor, the man who made his wishes known that after his death, his organs should be donated. And that is what happened - as well as his upper limbs, other organs were donated to other patients.

Chris says the best way to thank him and the medical team is to do his utmost to get as close as possible to having 100 per cent use of his new hands.

ITV Calendar Correspondent Jon Hill witnessed the emotional meeting with surgeon Professor Simon Kay, who gave Chris his new lease of life, at Leeds General Infirmary.

LGI champions hand transplant surgery Credit: Editorial

The consultant plastic surgeon lead a team of medics who performed 12 hours of surgery on the Yorkshire man. Gently examining the transplanted limbs, the medic quizzes Chris about his range of movement - how does he find doing up buttons or tying shoe​ laces?

Jon Hill says: “It is clear there is a bond between the two men.”

Professor Kay asks his patient: "What about shaking hands? "

Shaking hands is fine. I love doing it

– Chris King

Professor Kay nods as he enquires: "You must have gone a long time without shaking hands? What did it feel like when you first were able to?"

"Marvellous," laughs Chris.

"What's special about shaking hands?" asks the Professor, now shaking Chris's.

It's a greeting. It feels as though you're part of the human race again. I've always described it as the mainstream and I was slightly off, but now I'm connected.

– Chris King

It's a good grip too - not a wet handshake!

– Professor Kay
Chris loves to shake people's hands Credit: Editorial

The UK's first hand transplant was carried out at LGI in 2012. Subsequently the hospital was chosen by the health service to carry out the procedure for patients across the whole country, paid for by the NHS.

The surgery is complex. Taking around 12 hours, it involves one team of medics removing the donor’s hands while another work on the recipient.

Bones are joined together with titanium plates and screws before surgeons connect key tendons, muscles and blood vessels. Finally, the remaining nerves, tendons and muscles are attached, so the hand can regain its ability to feel.

He gets regular physio to help improve his movement Credit: Editorial

Chris attends regular occupational therapy sessions at LGI. Staff task him to pick up small, awkwardly-shaped objects like coins, metal nuts and paper clips.

Chris manages them all. Another exercise involves Chris - without looking - trying to identify different textured materials such as velvet, corduroy and silk.

Occupational therapist Joanna Burdon explains: "To be able to help someone like Chris is great, it's innovative practice, so rewarding. We have a really good relationship - you have to because you spend so much time together. We're a big team. We work together and Chris is at the centre of it."

Chris enjoys the feeling of using his hands again Credit: Editorial

Professor Kay reveals undergoing hand surgery himself as a child motivated him to specialise in this area of medicine: "My whole career in hand surgery started when I was a patient in 1956 and it undoubtedly drove my interest.

“The interesting thing is I travel to international conferences detailing our work. Most surgeons are interested in our work but they're really interested in the NHS - they can't believe that anyone in Britain can access health care without showing a credit card or paying money up front. It's there when they need it. The Americans and the Continentals cannot understand that."

I can't praise them enough. There's no words I could ever write down to thank them.

They do such a tremendous job and the best thing I can do to show appreciation is to be a success at what I do and push on - push for 100 per cent use of my hands even though I may never get it, still keep pushing and still making them proud.

I've seen the NHS at its very very best. I had a life changing accident and because of the NHS, I had a life changing operation

– Chris King

Gazing at his donated hands, he movingly recalls: “When I got these, it was absolutely gorgeous, but it's all down to the donors. I thought we'd become a selfish race at one point but there are millions and millions of good people.

He calls donors the real heroes Credit: Editorial

Do you know who are the real heroes? The people who leave these, leave their kidneys, their eyes, their lungs, their heart - they're the real heroes. The word hero is expressed far too often, but the people who donate their bodies, people who you never see and you can't say thank you to - they are the real heroes.

– Chris King

Ever the optimist, Chris refuses to dwell on the difficult times he has faced. Today, he only sees new opportunities ahead. He can now do and undo his buttons, shoe laces remain tricky but he hopes they’ll soon be within his grasp.

Chris dreams that one day he will use his new hands to tackle one of the world’s toughest rock climbs – the 1,100 metre high Troll Wall in Norway.

He is joking – for now.

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