Fifty-seven year old Chris King recently became the first recipient of a double hand transplant in the United Kingdom. King, who lost his hands in a work accident three years ago, couldn’t be happier and is already adapting well to the transplant, calling it his own.
In many ways, a hand operation can be more challenging than transplants involving organs, such as kidney transplants. Not only do the blood type and antigens have to match, but in the case of hand transplants, size and shape matter. “[Donated hands] also have to look appropriate because the hands are on view the whole time,” explained professor Simon Kay, a consultant plastic surgeon who led the transplant efforts. And coming by donated hands isn’t so easy as family members are more sensitive to donating the hands of their loved-ones.
Furthermore, think about all the things our hands can do. From delicate tasks like threading a needle, to accurate keystrokes, to swinging a bat – our hands are amazingly complex in every function. But this is also precisely why hand transplants are exceedingly difficult – every nerve, tendon, blood vessel have to be connected just right.
And so the team labored for hours on King’s hands. The work seemingly paid off as days after the operation, King reported sensation and movement in his new hands. He remarked: “I couldn't wish for anything better. It's better than a lottery win because you feel whole again."
"It's the first time as far as I'm aware that a hand transplant has been done which hasn't been above the wrist, which has been within the substance of the hand, which makes it much more difficult and more complex,” said Kay on the challenges the surgical team faced in this landmark operation.
While some recipients may have trouble adjusting psychologically to their new body parts, King is embracing his newfound lease on being whole again. “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,” King said.
With his new hands, King says he’s looking forward to everyday activities that have been impossible for him since the accident, like buttoning his shirt and holding a bottle of beer. "It was just like the hands were made to measure. They absolutely fit," he said. "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."
As King recovers from the operation, he encourages people to consider donating their hands or hands of their loved ones. "Even if you don't have a card, just have the conversation with your family. There's no greater gift,” he said.
Additional source: BBC News