Life’s dealt me a good hand at last: Ex-Marine’s miracle transplant means he can finally hold his grandson’s hand
Mark Cahill is the first person in Britain to have a hand transplant
He endured two decades of pain with fingers crippled by gout and infection
8-hour op involved connecting bones, tendons, nerves, arteries and veins
By Paul Harris
PUBLISHED: 21:41 GMT, 4 July 2013 | UPDATED: 06:33 GMT, 5 July 2013
He endured two decades of pain and faced a future in which even the simplest tasks would prove impossible.
Then, at last, life dealt Mark Cahill a good hand. The former Royal Marine became the first person in Britain to have a hand transplant when the pioneering operation was carried out six months ago.
Now, after struggling for so long with fingers crippled by gout and infection, he finally feels confident enough to give the new set a thumbs-up.
Hand in hand: Mark Cahill holding the hand of his Grandson Thomas,4 after becoming the first person in Britain to undergo a hand transplant
Brand new second hand: Mark Cahill shows off his transplanted hand six months after the operation
He can already carry tea to his wife – and, triumphantly, he can walk hand in hand with his four-year-old grandson.
It might not sound impressive, but to Mr Cahill – and the team behind the ground-breaking surgery – it is a medical milestone.
At the door of his West Yorkshire home he greets me with a beaming smile and, naturally, a cheery handshake.
It is an everyday gesture he was unable to perform when he lost use of his right hand five years ago, and one in which he now delights.
Tea’s up: Mark Cahil serves a cuppa to wife Sylvia thanks to his new hand
Simple tasks like dialling a number on his mobile phone had been impossible for Mr Cahill when he suffered from gout and infections
Cup of tea? No problem now for Mr Cahill. Turn the TV on? Easy with his new hand on the remote control.
Ah, but those cursed buttons. For the last years of the 52-year-old’s illness, infection paralysed his right hand as gout crippled his left.
So his loyal wife Sylvia partly buttoned his shirts, to allow him to slip them over his head; she then fastened the last buttons for him. Soon she expects to be relieved of shirt-button duty.
They even hold hands like young lovers ‘just because we can’, she said. Yet both know Mrs Cahill, 48, is holding a stranger’s hand. They have no idea who the donor was.
‘You can’t stop yourself wondering at first but I don’t dwell on it,’ Mr Cahill said. ‘You can think too much about that sort of thing. I still just sit and look at it in amazement. I can’t believe it. But it’s part of me now – my hand, my life.’
Mark Cahill puts his socks on using his new transplanted hand
Prescription: Mr Cahill with the huge array of pills he has to take every day
The transplant at Leeds General Infirmary was unique as the original hand was removed in the same procedure.
In the eight-hour operation a team led by consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay connected the bones, tendons, nerves, arteries and veins before the skin was stitched shut.
Result (initially, at least): A bruised, scarred and unfamiliar hand at the end of his right arm. And fingers that pointed the way to a new lease of life.
‘When the swelling goes down and the skin becomes the same colour you won’t be able to tell the difference,’ Mr Cahill said. ‘The nails grow and there are hairs growing,’ he adds, wiggling each finger independently.
‘It will never be totally mine, it’s smaller than my left hand and of course the fingerprints aren’t the same. But the difference it makes is incredible.’
Mark Cahill during his training for the Royal Marines aged 17 in 1978 and with wife Sylvia today
Mr Cahill left the Marines before completing full training, and every subsequent career involved using his hands. But gout struck him at the age of 32, causing the joints on his left hand to swell and the fingers to curl.
Then his right hand became infected and, eventually, paralysed. And when his disability worsened, he was forced to leave the pub he ran locally with his wife.
Mr Cahill was offered a prosthetic hand but opted for the real thing. Professor Kay thinks this was the right choice.
He told me: ‘The thing that’s remarkable about Mark is the speed of recovery. And his attitude is absolutely fantastic. He just gets on with it. He is a Yorkshireman, after all.’
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