World’s First Double Hand Transplant For Scleroderma Patient

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A roof tiler named Steven Gallagher was forced to stop working after an autoimmune disease called scleroderma caused his hands to close up in a fist position; this condition scars the skin and internal organs, which for Steven first developed 13 years ago when he got an “unusual rash”. Fortunately for him, the NHS performed the world’s first double hand transplant for this condition, and it was successful! Read on for further details.

13 years ago, when Steven Gallagher developed a rash, the condition affected his nose and mouth, and made his fingers begin to curl, which he described as “horrendous” pain. However, after the 48-year-old underwent a 12-hour operation at Leeds teaching hospital NHS trust, he was happy to know that he could complete everyday tasks like normal as before, such as turning the tap and filling a glass of water.

This is the first time a hand transplantation was completed to replace hands terminally affected by scleroderma anywhere in the world. Steven 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.”

The operation took place in December 2021, after which he spent four weeks in Leeds general infirmary with regular visits to hospitals in Glasgow for physiotherapy and monitoring. His condition is improving more than five months on from the operation now and you would be happy to know that he can do “things like stroke his family’s dog”. Although, he is not able to do tasks that require great dexterity.

He said, “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. 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 Prof 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 … 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.”

Professor Simon Kay, of Leeds teaching hospitals NHS trust, said the surgery was “a huge team effort” with as many as 30 health professionals involved. He said, “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. For this reason, we and our expert clinical psychologists assess and prepare patients, in order to be sure that they will be able to cope psychologically with the permanent reminder of their transplant, and the risk the body may reject the transplanted hands.”