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Friday, August 21, 1998 Published at 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK


Doctors re-graft fingers on to hand

Surgeons "stored" the fingers on the patient's arm

Micro-surgeons have re-grafted three fingers back on to a woman's hand eight months after she suffered serious injuries in an industrial accident.

It is thought that the operation is the first multi-digit transplant in the world.

[ image: Patient's hand palm was destroyed]
Patient's hand palm was destroyed
The fingers were kept alive by temporarily grafting them on to woman's arm to ensure that they continued to get a blood supply.

The woman, who wants to remain anonymous, badly damaged her hand in a work accident. Her palm was destroyed, but three of her fingers survived unscathed.

Twelve hour operation

Surgeons at St James' Hospital in Leeds re-grafted the fingers on to the damaged hand in a 12 hour operation.

They also constructed a thumb from one of the women's toes.

The fingers were first detached from the left forearm and then chilled. They were then fitted with plastic tendons.

The digits were connected to an artery in the right wrist via a section of the artery they had been living on in the left forearm.

Nerves for the fingers were created using nerves from one of the patient's ankles.

Althought it is too early to tell how successful the surgery will be, doctors hope the woman will eventually be able to lift her fingers, to squeeze and even to pinch.

Sunday lunch goal

[ image: Fingers after re-grafting]
Fingers after re-grafting
Her goal is to be able to successfully cook Sunday lunch.

She said: "It is strange, but I am thankful that they have decided to try it out on me.

"I now have a second chance, and maybe it will help someone else who has a similar accident."

Consultant plastic and hand surgeon Simon Kay, who led the team of micro-surgeons, said: "When we first we first examined the patient's hand we found the middle section was completely destroyed and beyond saving.

"The fingers however were undamaged so we saved three and joined them to the blood supply via an artery in the left forearm.

"Although the concept is very simple, it is a technical challenge to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together."

'We are delighted'

Over the past eight months the patient has undergone a series of procedures to imporve the appearance of the damaged right hand.

She also underwent daily physiotherapy to keep both the fingers and the joint on her damaged limb supple ready for the operation.

Mr Kay said: "We are delighted with the patient's condition, things are looking good and we don't anticipate any problems.

"We hope other patients will benefit from this breakthrough."

The preservation of amputated parts of a body using a patient's own body has been attempted previously, but only three or four cases are known worldwide.

One included saving a hand in the patient's own armpit.

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