The first person in the UK to have a double hand transplant says writing a letter to thank his Leeds surgeon has been one the highlights of his first nine months since the pioneering operation, as well as being able to clap the achievements of his favourite rugby league team.
Chris King, 57, described how he has got his life back since the surgery in July last year, when he became the second person to have a hand transplant at the UK’s specialist centre for the operation at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) and the first to have both hands replaced.
Mr King demonstrated how he can now do a range of tasks, including writing, making a cup of tea and gardening as he progresses even faster than his surgeon anticipated.
He said he is improving every week and his next aims are to tie his own shoelaces and button up his shirt. He said he has already cracked undoing them.
Looking at his hands, Mr King said: “They are my boys, they really are.”
He said: “It’s been going fantastically.
“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. There are still limitations but I’m getting back to the full Chris again.”
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 what he calls the “unsung heroes” at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital managed to save his life and enough of his lower limbs to enable the later transplant surgery.
Consultant plastic surgeon Professor Simon Kay performed the first UK hand transplant on Mark Cahill at the LGI and also did Mr King’s transplant.
Mr King and Mr Cahill became friends and are now members of an exclusive club, which now has an additional member after Prof 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.
Mr King 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.
“When I picked a pen up first time was with my right hand,” he said.
“The next time I picked it up it was left. I might be able to write with both hands now.”
Mr King said: “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.”
Shortly after his operation, Mr King said his first aim was to pour a pint of his favourite Yorkshire ale, Timothy Taylor’s, from a bottle.
He said: “I did enjoy it. It tasted sweeter because of what I had done. It was a little mini-celebration, just for me.”
And he 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.
“I’ve never been but I will go one day and clap a lot and shout a lot, even if we lose,” he said.
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”.
“Become a donor and live your life to the full like I want to live now,” he said. “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.”
Mr King said he does not hide his hands when he goes out and does not mind when children ask him about them.
“I don’t really think of my hands, I just think of what I’m going to do next,” he said.
Mr King, who is single and from Rossington, near Doncaster, said: “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.”
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.”