Stephen Gallagher, of Dragone, Ayrshire, is the first person in the world to have had a double hand transplant after suffering from the rare disease scleroderma.

Scottish father of three, 48, becomes first double hand transplant recipient

A man whose hands were left unusable due to scleroderma has been given a new lease on life after what is believed to be the world’s first double hand transplant for the condition.

Stephen Gallagher, 48, has been diagnosed with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that causes scarring of the skin and internal organs, after he developed an unusual rash on his cheeks and nose about 13 years ago, and pain in his right arm.

Doctors initially said it could be lupus, then they thought it was carpal tunnel syndrome and he underwent surgery, but when the pain in his arms returned, he was referred to a specialist who confirmed he had scleroderma.

The condition affected areas including the nose, mouth, and hands, and about seven years ago his fingers began to twist until they were in a fist position and he was in “horrible” pain.

When experts proposed the idea of ​​a double hand transplant, the father of three initially rejected the idea but then decided to go ahead despite the risks.

Stephen Gallagher, of Dragone, Ayrshire, is the first person in the world to have had a double hand transplant after suffering from the rare disease scleroderma.

Stephen's hands were left unusable due to scleroderma, but were given a new lease on life after what is believed to be the world's first double hand transplant for the condition.

Stephen’s hands were left unusable due to scleroderma, but were given a new lease on life after what is believed to be the world’s first double hand transplant for the condition.

An undated flyer picture of Steven Gallagher's hand after surgery

An undated flyer picture of Steven Gallagher’s hand after surgery

When experts suggested the idea of ​​a double hand transplant, the father of three initially rejected the idea but then decided to go ahead despite the risks.

When experts suggested the idea of ​​a double hand transplant, the father of three initially rejected the idea but then decided to go ahead despite the risks.

The condition affected areas including the nose, mouth and hands, and about seven years ago, his fingers began to turn until they became fists and he was in pain

The condition affected areas including the nose, mouth, and hands, and about seven years ago his fingers began to twist until they were in a fist position and he was in “horrible” pain. But now he’s starting to control his new hands

He told the Palestinian News Agency: “My hand started closing, and I got to the point where there were two fists, my hand was unusable, and I couldn’t do anything but lift things with my hand.

I couldn’t catch anything, getting dressed and things like that was a struggle.

When Professor Hart in Glasgow mentioned to me about a double hand transplant, I laughed at the time and thought it was some kind of space age, but after thinking about it for a little while, I spoke more to Professor Hart, went down to Leeds and spoke to Professor Kay.

They were really understanding and were really open about what could happen, that I might completely lose my hand, and they said it was unlikely but it was a risk.

My wife and I talked about it and came to an agreement to proceed with it. I could end up losing my hand anyway, so it was just a case of telling them I would.

Mr. Gallagher, from Drygorn in North Ayrshire, had to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to ensure he was prepared for the possibility of a transplant.

He then underwent a 12-hour surgery in mid-December 2021 after finding a suitable donor.

The hand transplant team at Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, which performed the surgery, said it was the first time anywhere in the world that hand implants had been used to replace hands with scleroderma.

“After the operation I woke up and it was absolutely surreal because before that I had my hand, and then when I woke up from the operation my hand was still in my head and I had never lost any of my hands,’ said Mr. Gallagher.

These hands are great, everything happened so quickly. From the moment I woke up from the operation I could move them.

Steven Gallagher was photographed holding his dog Skye

Steven Gallagher was photographed holding his dog Skye

More than five months after the operation, his condition is improving, and although he cannot perform tasks that require great skill, such as making buttons, he can do things like open the tap and fill a glass of water

More than five months after the operation, his condition is improving, and although he cannot perform tasks that require great skill, such as making buttons, he can do things like open the tap and fill a glass of water

The 48-year-old was a roof tiler and was hired as an assistant contract manager but had to stop working due to his condition.

The 48-year-old was a roof tiler and was hired as an assistant contract manager but had to stop working due to his condition.

Stephen is delighted with being able to do everyday things like petting his dog as he steadily improves the skill of his new gloves.

Stephen is delighted with being able to do everyday things like petting his dog as he steadily improves the skill of his new gloves.

He added, “It gave me a new lease on life. I still find things difficult now but things are getting better every week with the physicist and occupational therapists, everything is slowly getting better.”

“Pain is the biggest thing. The pain before the operation was awful, I was going through so many things to be unbelievable, but now I don’t feel any pain at all.

Mr Gallagher, who has three daughters aged 12, 24 and 27, spent about four weeks in Leeds General Dispensary after the operation and makes regular visits to hospitals in Glasgow for physiotherapy and observation.

More than five months after the operation, his condition is improving, and although he can’t perform tasks that require great skill, like doing buttons, he can do things like hitting his dog, turning on the faucet and filling a glass of water.

The 48-year-old was a roof tiler and was hired as an assistant contract manager but had to stop working due to his condition.

‘Pain is the biggest thing. The pain before the operation was horrible, I was in so much pain to be unbelievable, but now I don’t feel any pain at all’

He now hopes to get back to some kind of work once his hands are better enough, and is very grateful to the person and family of the donor who made the transplant possible.

The surgery involved a team of 30 specialists from many specialties.

Professor Simon Kay, from the NHS Trust of Leeds Teaching Hospitals, said: “This process has been a huge team effort with input from our colleagues here in Leeds and in Glasgow.

A hand transplant is very different from a kidney transplant or other organ transplant, as hands are something we see every day and use in many ways.

For this reason, we and our expert clinical psychologists evaluate and prepare patients, to ensure that they will be able to psychologically cope with the constant reminders of their implants, and the risks that the body may reject the transplanted hands.

2022-05-25 23:18:15

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