The first person in the UK to have a double hand transplant says he feels “whole again” as he looks forward to wearing shirts with real buttons.
Chris King, 57, lost both his hands, except the thumbs, in an accident involving a metal pressing machine at work three years ago.
Now King has become the second person to have a hand transplant at the UK’s specialist centre for the operation at Leeds General Infirmary, and the first to have both hands replaced.
Recovering after the surgery, he told the Press Association: “I couldn’t wish for anything better.
“It’s better than a lottery win because you feel whole again.”
King, who is single and from Rossington, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, said the operation appears to have been a complete success.
He said he already has some movement.
“They look absolutely tremendous,” he said.
“They’re my hands. They really are my hands. My blood’s going through them. My tendons are attached. They’re mine. They really are.
“I can’t wait to get all this (the bandages) off and look at them properly.”
He said: “It was just like the hands were made-to-measure. They absolutely fit. And it’s actually opened a memory because I could never remember what my hands looked like after the accident because that part of my brain shut down.”
King recalled how he spent three years getting used to having no hands and resigned himself to living an adapted life despite little reminders from his five-year-old niece.
“A couple of weeks ago she was holding my thumbs, walking with me, and she said ‘Uncle Chris, when are you going to grow some fingers?’,” he said.
He joked that he had only just trained himself to stop biting his nails when the accident happened.
King said his passion was cycling and he had already had a bike adapted so he could use it.
Now, he is itching to ride properly and just start doing simple things, such as gardening with his ride-on mower.
He said: “I want to start using mechanical things and start trimming the hedge and do what I used to do and then I’ll be happy.”
He said: “I could shout from the rooftops and celebrate it big-time, which is what I’m going to do.”
King explained how was really looking forward to ditching the ‘Full Monty Velcro’ shirts he has had to use.
And he is most looking forward to holding a bottle of beer properly.
“A bottle of Timothy Taylor’s - that’s what I can’t wait to get back for,” he said.
King has gone back to work at Eaton Lighting, in Doncaster, where the accident happened and he said the firm has been “brilliant”.
“They just took me in and said ‘Chris, we’ll find something for you to do’,” he said.
King remembers the accident perfectly but said there was no pain and no trauma.
But he said he still has the odd problem going back into the department where the machine is located.
“It doesn’t mean anything to me sometimes and other times I can go in and I need to get out quick, because there are certain sounds,” he said.
“But I think things will be different. I’ll be able to walk in and stop in.”
King recalled how doctors in Sheffield talked about reconstructive surgery and other options but said: “Something was telling me, no. There’s something better out there.”
One of the team in Sheffield referred him to consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay at Leeds General Infirmary, who introduced him to Mark Cahill - the first person to have a hand transplant in the UK in 2012.
He said Cahill encouraged him to have the operation and they’re now good friends - exclusive members of a club of two that is looking for more members, he added.
“We’ll shake hands one day. It’s wonderful stuff.”
King has nothing but praise for Prof Kay’s team at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust - now the UK’s centre for hand transplants after it was given the go-ahead earlier this year.
Prof Kay’s team is hoping to perform between two and four operations a year and has four people currently on the waiting list.
But King is keen to stress the importance of people stepping forward as potential donors and became tearful when he was asked about the donor who helped him.
No details of the donor are being released. Details of exactly when the operation was carried out were also not being released to reduce the risk of the donor being identified, although it was in the last 10 days.
The donor gave his upper limbs as well as other organs, according to his brother, who issued a statement on behalf of his family.
He said: “Our brother was a kind, caring and considerate person who would have given the shirt off his back to help somebody in need.
“Learning that he had registered as an organ donor made our decision to support him donating so much easier.
“We are pleased that the double hand transplant operation was able to go ahead, and all of our family send our best wishes to the recipient.
Clearly emotional, King said: “It’s marvellous. It’s like somebody putting an arm round you and saying you’ll be alright. It’s difficult to say thank you.”
King said: “There are probably people out there who don’t know about this still. They can have something better. We want as many donors as we can.
“Even if you don’t have a card, just have the conversation with your family.
“There’s no greater gift.”