The first person in the UK to have a double hand transplant is now able to write and even make a cup of tea.
Chris King, 57, lost both his hands – except the thumbs – in an accident involving a metal pressing machine at work four years ago.
After having the operation in July at the UK’s specialist centre at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) to replace both limbs, he was looking forward to holding a bottle of beer.
In the weeks following the 12-hour procedure, he was able to pour a pint of his favourite Yorkshire ale from a bottle and said it tasted ‘sweeter’ because of his accomplishment.
Nine months on, he says his highlight is having been able to write a letter to thank his surgeon Professor Simon Kay, who conducted the operation alongside eight other medics.
The consultant plastic surgeon says he is incredibly pleased with Mr King’s progress as he aims to tie up his own shoelaces and button his shirt in the coming months.
Looking at his hands, Mr King, from Rossington, said: ‘They are my boys, they really are. It’s been going fantastically.’
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‘I can make a fist, I can hold a pen, I can do more or less the same functions as I could with my original hands.
‘Everything’s just progressing and it’s bigger strides too that I’m making – bigger than I thought I’d ever be doing.
‘I think that will be the icing on the cake when I can do my laces, and I don’t think that’s far off. There are still limitations but I’m getting back to the full Chris again.’
Professor Kay said he was amazed to receive a Christmas card and letter from Mr King, written with one of his new hands.
He added: ‘When you bear in mind he will go on improving for another two years, he’s really remarkable – a really vindication for the surgery he’s had.
‘He’s been fantastic. His results by eight months are even more impressive than we expected. He’s doing more, sooner than we expected.
‘There is a sequence, but we expected it to be spread out over a much longer period of time. And a lot of that is down to his extraordinary enthusiasm and hard work.
‘He’s proved to be, as he proved right at the beginning, a very robust resilient patient, very enthusiastic about his hands and I think he’s absolutely delighted.’
Mr King lost both his hands, except the thumbs, in an accident involving a metal pressing machine at his work in Doncaster four years ago.
He was close to death in the ambulance after the terrible incident, but a team of ‘unsung heroes’ at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital managed to save his life.
They also managed to save enough of his lower limbs to enable the later transplant surgery at LGI – which has proved to be a complete success.
The trust running the hospital was awarded a contract to become the UK’s specialist centre for hand transplants by NHS England earlier last year.
Mr King returned back to work shortly after the surgery to attach the donor hands – and previously said his firm had been ‘brilliant’.
Despite being unique, he does not hide the new limbs when he goes out and does not mind when children ask questions about them.
He added: ‘I don’t really think of my hands, I just think of what I’m going to do next. That’s back to me doing that again. That’s why it feels so good and why there’s a smile on my face.
‘I had a life-changing accident. That changed into a life changing operation which brought me back. I’m not worried about the future.
‘I’ve heard it said that you can’t look at life through rose-coloured glasses. You can.’
Immediately after the procedure, he managed to gain some movement in his donor hands – but it has since improved dramatically.
The single man described how he celebrated re-learning how to hold a pen and write again with a letter to the professor.
And he said his handwriting is improving every day, now he has decided he will resume being left-handed.
He said: ‘When I picked a pen up first time was with my right hand. The next time I picked it up it was left. I might be able to write with both hands now.’
Mr King also said he is amazed how much he enjoys clapping, especially when cheering on Leeds Rhinos on the rugby pitch, or his football team, Leeds United.
Now he wants to go to a Rhinos match at their Headingley ground.
He added: ‘I’ve never been but I will go one day and clap a lot and shout a lot, even if we lose.’
Mr King is determined to again thank the family of the person who donated his hands and encourage others to do provide what he calls ‘this wonderful gift’.
After the operation last year, the donor’s family issued a statement which 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.’
Mr King is also keen to stress the importance of people stepping forward as potential donors
He continued: ‘Become a donor and live your life to the full like I want to live now. That’s the message I’d like to get over.
‘It’s so wonderful. We can do some great things in this country. If only we can push it a bit more and don’t be afraid to be a donor.’
Professor Kay also performed the first UK hand transplant on former pub landlord Mark Cahill at the LGI.
Mr Cahill was the first person to have the pioneering operation in the UK, while Mr King was the first to have both hands replaced.
The pair became friends and are now members of an exclusive club, which now has an additional member after Professor Kay’s team carried out a further double transplant.
The hospital is hoping the procedure will one day be as routine as a kidney transplant.
Surgeon hopes hand transplants become ‘as routine as a kidney transplant’
Consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay said he is incredibly pleased with the progress of Chris King nearly nine months after the surgery to attach donor hands to both his wrecked limbs.
He is also encouraged by the progress of Mark Cahill, from West Yorkshire, who was the first hand transplant patient in the UK in 2012. He has since regained almost complete use of his transplanted limb and reportedly used it to save his wife’s life last year after she suffered a heart attack.
Another man, who has not been identified, became Professor Kay’s third successful transplant patient at LGI when he was given two new hands earlier this year, one including his lower arm.
And two more patients, both women, are lined up for surgery at the UK’s specialist centre in the near future, as donors become available.
Professor Kay said: ‘The programme is now well-established. It’s now become mature.
‘We would like hand transplantation to be as routine and unremarkable as kidney transplantation.
‘We understand the indications, the process. We now have three transplant patients completed and another two to go.’
The professor said that his aim has been to establish a National Health Service centre in Leeds which will build up an expertise in the procedure.
He said: ‘We learned from Mark for Chris and from Chris for the next patient. All around the world, small units have done the occasional transplant.
‘What we want wanted to do was come into the welfare state-funded health system and say, now, let’s have this new technique; let’s use it, evaluate it, work out what works, learn the lessons from case-to-case and roll it out as a service.
‘I’m old enough to remember the first kidney transplants and the first heart transplants and what an extraordinary thing they were. And now they’re routine.
‘I think the National Health Service is the perfect environment to take a new procedure like this, evaluate it and make it work – make it routine and successful.’
Like Mr King, Professor Kay encouraged everyone to think about the need for donors.
He said: ‘When you see Chris and Mark, it’s quite clear that this has revolutionised their lives. It’s taken them from the despair of complete disability to virtually normal life. So, it’s a very important thing and it’s a remarkable thing, donation.’