The Brit has a double hand transplant in the ‘world first’ for a scleroderma patient | Science and technology news
A man whose hands were rendered useless by a rare disease has been given a new lease of life 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 causes scarring of 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 around seven years ago his fingers began curling into a fist position and he was in “excruciating” pain.
When experts suggested the idea of a double hand transplant, the father of three initially dismissed the idea, but then went for it despite the risks.
He told the PA news agency: “My wife and I discussed it and agreed to give it a try. I could lose my hands anyway, so it was just a case of letting them know I was going for it.”
Mr Gallagher, from Dreghorn in North Ayrshire, had to undergo a psychological assessment 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 operation, said it was the first time in the world that a hand transplant had been used to replace hands terminally affected by scleroderma.
Mr Gallagher said: “After the operation I woke up and it was quite surreal because I had my hands beforehand and when I woke up after the operation I still had hands so in my mind I never really lost hands.
“These hands are amazing, everything happened so quickly. From the moment I woke up after the surgery I could move them.”
He added: “It gave me a new lease of life. I still find it difficult now, but it’s getting better every week with the physio and the occupational therapists, everything is only slowly getting better.
“The pain is the most important thing. The pain before the surgery was excruciating, I was on so many painkillers it was unbelievable but now I have no pain at all.”
Mr Gallagher spent around four weeks at Leeds General Infirmary following the operation 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 skill, such as unbuttoning 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 was appointed assistant contract manager but had to stop his job due to his condition.
He now hopes to return to some type of work once his hands have sufficiently improved and is very grateful to the donor person and family who made the transplant possible.
The operation involved a team of 30 professionals from many disciplines.
Professor Simon Kay, of the 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 experienced clinical psychologists assess and prepare patients to ensure they can psychologically cope with the permanent memory of their transplant and the risk of the body rejecting the transplanted hands.”