Hand Transplants To Begin In The UK Under The NHS

A New Hand Transplant Sounds Great, But The Reality Is Mind-Bogglingly Complex

Hand transplants will begin, starting April, at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. The highly complex procedure has only been carried out 80 times in the world and the hope is that the UK will become one of its pioneers.

Stefano Silleoni, a 41-year old man who lost both his hands works on a re-education exercise with his two transplanted limbs.

The UK's first hand transplant took place at the centre in Leeds back in 2012. Led by consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay the eight hour procedure was able to provide patient Mark Cahill with a full-functioning replacement hand.

Since that operation Cahill has reportedly regained enough dexterity in the hand to be able to tie his own shoe laces, carry his granddaughter and even drive.

Hand transplants, although now possible, are extremely complex procedures and as such require a huge number of external circumstances to be suitable for the operation to go ahead.

If a patient is sure about the procedure going ahead they'll have to meet with the team at Leeds, explain why they think a transplanted hand would significantly improve their life and then undergo a full series of health checks.

Any potential patient who wishes to apply for the procedure will then have to undergo significant psychoanalysis. Unlike an artificial limb, a hand transplant will give the patient the hand of another human being, this means they'll have their fingerprints. This can have a significant impact on a person if they're not properly prepared.

The transplanted hand has to fit a painfully large number of criteria before it can be considered.

The transplanted hand has to be a matching size, have the blood type and immunology and the same skin tone. If any of these are even slightly off then the hand cannot be transplanted as the risk of the host body rejecting it can be so high.

According to Leeds' Hand Transplant website the procedure will take around 10 hours and while long the centre describes it as 'safe and relatively straighforward'.

Once the operation is complete a patient is then monitored for a minimum of 10 days before being sent for outpatient care.

Leed's Hand Transplant site describes what happens next: "Rehabilitation is an extremely important part of your recovery and you will need to work very hard initially to make sure that your new hand(s) function as you would want them to. Occupational and physical therapy will start straight after surgery whilst you are an inpatient."

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust will become the main centre for hands transplants in the UK.

It's a long road, but one that for the right patient, will be worth it. Leeds claim that the transplanted limb could "feel touch, perform fine and course movement, be warm when touched and heal when injured."

And while it does warn that "some functions return quicker than others and complete function may take several years to develop." the outcome can be hugely rewarding compared to the more conventional artificial limbs.

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