Double hand transplant: World first for Scottish man who suffered autoimmune disease

Steven Gallagher, 48, was diagnosed with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that causes scarring of the skin and internal organs, after he developed an unusual rash about 13 years ago.

His hands were left unusable and the condition also affected his nose and mouth.

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About seven years ago, his fingers started curling in until they were in a fist position and he was suffering “horrendous” pain.

Steven Gallagher says his transplanted hands have given him ‘a new lease of life’
Pic: Jane Barlow/PA

When Glasgow hand and cosmetic surgeon Professor Andrew Hart suggested a double hand transplant the father-of-three initially dismissed the idea.

Roofing worker Mr Gallagher, 48, said: “My hands started to close, it got to the point where it was basically two fists, my hands were unusable, I couldn’t do a thing apart from lift things with two hands.

“I could not grab anything, it was a struggle to get dressed and things like that.

“When Professor Hart in Glasgow mentioned to me about a double hand transplant, at the time I laughed and thought that’s space age kind of things but, after thinking about it for a wee while, I spoke more to Professor Hart, and I went down to Leeds and spoke to Professor Simon Kay there.”

A 30-strong surgical team carried out the 12-hour operation to transplant the donor hands
Pic: Jane Barlow/PA

“They were really understanding and were really open about what might happen, that I could lose my hands altogether, they said it was unlikely but it was a risk.

“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.”

Mr Gallagher, from Dreghorn, Ayrshire, underwent psychological evaluation to ensure he was prepared for the prospect of a transplant.

Mr Gallagher is slowly gaining more dexterity in his hands
Pic: PA/Jane Barlow

A 30-strong surgical team carried out the 12-hour operation last December after a donor was found.

Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust said it is the first time anywhere in the world that hand transplantation has been used to replace hands terminally affected by scleroderma.

Mr Gallagher 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.”

Thought still unable to tackle some tasks, Mr Gallagher’s new hands have given him greater independence
Pic: Jane Barlow/Pa

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.”

Professor Kay said: “This operation has been a huge team effort.

“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.”

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